Brittney Griner, a seven-time WNBA All-Star and two-time WNBA Defensive Player of the Year, remains in custody in Russia after being detained in February at Sheremetyevo International Airport. The Russian Federal Customs Service claims to have found vape cartridges containing concentrated marijuana hash oil in Griner’s luggage.
Griner, 31, is facing a criminal investigation for “large-scale transportation of drugs, an offense punishable by up to 10 years in prison in Russia”, according to The New York Times. The Phoenix Mercury, Griner’s WNBA team and the WNBPA both gave their support in early March.
The U.S. government rallied to the defense of Griner,on May 3 and reportedly called on former US ambassador to the United Nations, Bill Richardson, who has several years of experience as an international hostage negotiator. With Griner’s new designation, the US government can immediately negotiate his return instead of waiting for his trial in Russia to be completed.
“The State Department has determined that the Russian Federation wrongfully detained U.S. citizen Brittney Griner,” a State Department spokesperson said. told ESPN. “With this determination, the President’s Special Envoy for Hostage Affairs, Roger Carstens, will lead the interagency team tasked with securing the release of Brittney Griner.”
Griner has more than the US government on his side. In an NBA Draft Lottery interview on May 17, NBA commissioner Adam Silver announced. The process led Silver to communicate with “all levels” of government.
“We have been in contact with the White House, State Department, hostage negotiators, all levels of government and also through the private sector,” Silver said. told ESPN. “Our No. 1 priority is her health and safety and getting her out of Russia.”
A video of Griner attempting to pass through airport screening emerged from Russian customs on March 5, but the service did not identify the former Baylor star by name. Russian news agency TASS later confirmed it was Griner, and Russian state television released an undated photo of her in a police station later that day. The two-time Olympic gold medalist was would have detained on February 17.
According to a report by Russian state news agency TASS on March 17, a Moscow court extended his pre-trial detention until May 19. The court also denied Griner’s request for house arrest, according to Initiated. Griner, who is 6ft 9in tall, complained that the beds in the prison cell were too small for her, according to the TASS report. She shares the cell with two other English-speaking inmates, and both reportedly have no previous convictions and are being held for “drug-related items”, according to NBC.
grinning told the AP he thinks the relatively short length of the extension means his client will soon get a trial. The attorney added that Griner had “no complaints about the conditions of confinement,” but it’s unclear whether the bed size situation has been resolved.when she learned that her pre-trial detention had been extended until 18 June. Alexander Boykov, Griner’s lawyer,
On March 18, Ekaterina Kalugina, a representative of Moscow’s Public Supervisory Commission which monitors the treatment of prisoners, said the US consul had yet to visit Griner. Kalugina says it’s good that the Russian authorities have said they will “create all the conditions” for a visit to take place.
That changed less than a week later. On March 22, US State Department spokesman Ned Price told CNN that a US Embassy official had obtained “consular access” to Griner, allowing them to assess his condition.
“Our manager has found Brittney Griner to be in good condition, and we will continue to do everything possible to ensure that she is treated fairly throughout this ordeal,” Price said. mentioned.
The visit comes after the US Embassy in Moscow “repeatedly requested” to speak to Griner immediately after his arrest, but was “systematically and improperly” denied access. US Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan then instructed the Russian Foreign Ministry to “follow international law and basic human decency to allow consular access to all US citizens detained in Russia, including those in pre-trial detention”.
Russia launched a full-scale military attack on Ukraine on February 24, prompting the United States and other countries to issue severe penalties against Russia. It’s unclear whether Russia’s detention of Griner, who played for Russian Premier League side UMMC Ekaterinburg in recent WNBA offseasons, was an act of retaliation.
Whatever Russia’s intentions, the U.S. government would have plans to launch an “endless battle” to return Griner to his home country.
How have American politicians reacted?
Reaction to Griner’s situation has been somewhat muted among American politicians due to concerns over the former WNBA champion’s privacy. However, three U.S. congressmen representing Griner’s home state of Texas lent their support.
Texas Congressman Colin Allred, who is also a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, is personally working with the State Department to expedite Griner’s return to the United States. Allred describes the situation as “extremely concerning”.
“Every day for anyone who is detained, especially overseas, is a life,” he added. mentioned Allred, a former NFL linebacker who played football at Baylor in the early 2000s. “I recognize that for her friends and family, it must be an incredibly difficult time. And for her, I’m sure the uncertainty about what’s going on is probably just terrible. And so, hopefully, whatever happens, we can move things along quickly and get her out.”
In a post on Twitter, Texas Congressman Joaquin Castro said he was “closely monitoring” Griner’s Russian detention and demanded that she be “safely returned”.
“This follows a pattern of Russia wrongfully detaining and imprisoning American citizens,” Castro wrote March 5. “…American citizens are not political pawns.
Castro’s comments were similar to those of Texas Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee. Speaking to a crowd, Jackson Lee called for Griner’s release and said she had asked the State Department to prioritize her case.
“If there are any challenges and concerns about her actions, they should be handled diplomatically and she should be released,” Jackson Lee said. mentioned.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken and White House press secretary Jen Psaki both declined to comment directly on Griner’s situation immediately after his detention became public, citing confidentiality concerns. PSAKI noted that federal privacy law requires the US government to obtain written consent from a person in custody to discuss their situation.
Blinken, however, said his department is “doing everything in its power” to ensure that the rights of all Americans detained in Russia are “safeguarded and respected.”
“Whenever an American is detained anywhere in the world, of course we are ready to provide any assistance possible, including in Russia,” Blinken said March 6.
Assistance will not be easy to provide in Griner’s case, according to California Congressman John Garamendi. Garamendi, who also sits on the U.S. House of Representatives Armed Services Committee, said the “non-existent” diplomatic relations between the United States and Russia will make it “very difficult” to secure his release.
“Our diplomatic relations with Russia are non-existent at the moment,” Garamendi told CNN in March. “Maybe during the various negotiations that could take place, she could be one of the solutions. I don’t know.”
Garamendi added that Griner’s sexual orientation – she is a lesbian – could make the process even more difficult because “Russia has very, very strict LGBT rules and laws.”
Although it remains to be determined whether Russia detained Griner to provoke the United States, the State Department urged American citizens to leave Russia immediately to avoid the “potential for harassment” in a updated notice March 5.
Why was Griner in Russia?
Griner is one of approximately 70 WNBA players — nearly half of the league’s 144 berths — competing internationally in the 2022 offseason. She was also one of about a dozen players playing in Russia or Ukraine — who , aside from Griner, are all gone. UMMC Yekaterinburg alone has five WNBA stars in Griner, reigning WNBA MVP Jonquel Jones, Breanna Stewart, Allie Quigley and Courtney Vandersloot on its current roster.
While Griner and Co. have various reasons for playing internationally, many do so for financial gain. The WNBA’s minimum and maximum salaries are $60,471 and $228,094, respectively. Those numbers are well below what the NBA offers, as that league — which plays 82 games to the WNBA’s 36 — has a minimum salary of $925,000 and a maximum salary starting at over $28 million.
grinning would have earns $1 million per season playing for UMMC Yekaterinburg.
The WNBA’s relatively low salaries forced former league MVP – and Griner’s Mercury teammate – Diana Taurasi to agree to a $1.5 million contract from UMMC Ekaterinburg in 2015, even though it would prevent him from participating in that year’s WNBA season.
“The year-round nature of women’s basketball takes its toll and the financial opportunity with my team in Russia would have been irresponsible to turn down,” Taurasi said. wrote in an open letter to fans. “They offered to pay me to rest and I decided to accept them. I want to be able to take care of myself and my family when I’m done playing.”
In 2020, the WNBA and WNBPA agreed to a new eight-year CBA that would bring the average salary to nearly $130,000, its first time above six figures. The WNBA’s maximum salary was $117,500 the previous year.