American basketball star Brittney Griner appeared in court in the suburbs on suspicion of possession of marijuana.
Griner was arrested in February at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport while on her way to play for the Russian team during the off-season in the United States.
The 31-year-old finally appeared before judges on Friday – more than four months later – to formally face drug possession charges in a closed trial.
Two-time US Olympic champion Griner faces up to 10 years in prison if found guilty.
The arrest of the athlete and his trial take place against the backdrop of aggravated relations between Moscow and Washington after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Griner was arrested less than a week before Russia moved troops into Ukraine.
Police said she was smuggling cannabis oil through the airport and accused the basketball player of large-scale drug trafficking.
On Friday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied politics played a role in Griner’s prosecution.
“The facts are that a well-known athlete was detained while storing illegal drugs containing narcotic substances,” Peskov told reporters. “In view of what I said, it cannot be politically motivated.”
In May, the US State Department classified Griner as wrongfully detained and turned the case over to its special envoy for hostage affairs. Griner’s supporters even encouraged prisoner exchanges.
Griner’s wife Cherell urged President Joe Biden to secure her release, calling her a “political pawn”.
“It was nice to see her in some of those shots, but it’s tough,” added Vanessa Nygaard, Griner’s trainer at Phoenix Mercury.
“Each time, it’s a reminder that their teammate, their friend, is illegally imprisoned in another country.”
“The US Embassy and the country are deeply concerned about this case,” Embassy spokeswoman Elisabeth Rude told the Russian court.
“[Griner] told me to convey that she was in high spirits and that she kept the faith, ”added Rude.