The trial of US basketball star Brittney Griner, detained in Russia since February, opened on Friday as tensions rage over Moscow's offensive in Ukraine.

"The trial has began," Polina Vdovtsova, the spokeswoman for the courtroom within the city of Khimki exterior Moscow, advised reporters.

Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medallist and WNBA champion, faces as much as 10 years in jail on fees of drug smuggling.

The trial was partially closed, with a restricted media presence, which Vdovtsova mentioned was "on the request of the defence, the request of Griner herself".

The six-foot-nine star was introduced into courtroom in handcuffs. She wore a white T-shirt with US music icon Jimi Hendrix on it.

The 31-year-old got here to Russia in February to play there through the US low season, and was detained at a Moscow airport after she was discovered carrying vape cartridges with hashish oil in her baggage.

Griner was detained days earlier than Russian President Vladimir Putin defied US warnings and despatched troops into Ukraine, prompting Western powers to impose sweeping sanctions on Moscow.

US authorities initially saved a low profile on the case, which was not made recognized to most people till March 5.

However in opposition to the backdrop of sinking relations, Washington now says that Russia "wrongfully detained" the basketball star and put its particular envoy answerable for hostages on the case.

The WNBA has additionally mentioned it's working to deliver Griner dwelling.

She was as a result of play membership basketball in Russia earlier than the resumption of the US season, a standard apply for American stars in search of further earnings.

Powerful sentences

Russian legislation is strict in such instances and different foreigners have not too long ago been handed heavy sentences on drug-related fees.

Final month a Moscow courtroom sentenced a former US diplomat, Marc Fogel, to 14 years in jail for "large-scale" hashish smuggling.

Russia and america repeatedly conflict over the detention of one another's residents and typically change them in scenes harking back to the Chilly Battle.

In April, former US Marine Trevor Reed, serving a nine-year sentence in Russia for violence, was exchanged for Russian pilot Konstantin Yaroshenko, imprisoned within the US since 2010 for drug trafficking.

Different exchanges of this kind may very well be the topic of potential talks, observers say.

Among the many names most talked about is that of Paul Whelan, an American sentenced to 16 years in jail for espionage, and the Russian arms trafficker Viktor Bout, nicknamed "The Service provider of Dying", who's serving a 25-year sentence within the US.

In January 2020, Putin pardoned a younger Israeli-American lady, Naama Issachar, imprisoned in Russia for "drug trafficking" after then-Israeli chief Benjamin Netanyahu met with him in Moscow, and introduced her dwelling.

She was stopped in April 209 throughout a transit at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport whereas flying between India and Israel by way of the Russian capital.

Authorities mentioned they discovered 9 grams of hashish in her baggage.

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