Phoenix Mercury center and 7-time WNBA All-Star Brittney Griner has reportedly been held in Russia accused of ‘drug charges’ for weeks.
Breaking News: Russian customs officials said they had detained a star American basketball player after finding hashish oil in her luggage at an airport near Moscow. The Russian news agency TASS has identified the player as Brittney Griner. https://t.co/7rJaQqNyJK
— The New York Times (@nytimes) March 5, 2022
The New York Times reports the two-time Olympic gold medalist and out basketball star is accused of “large-scale transportation of drugs” which could result in a prison sentence of up to ten years.
A video clip released on Twitter reportedly shows her being stopped at a Russian airport by security agents.
From the New York Times:
The Russian Federal Customs Service said its officials had detained the player after finding vape cartridges that contained hashish oil in her luggage at the Sheremetyevo airport near Moscow, and it released a video of a traveler going through airport security who appeared to be Griner.
Griner’s detention comes at the most dangerous moment in U.S.-Russia relations since the Cuban missile crisis, as the Biden administration leads dozens of nations in imposing crushing sanctions on Russia’s economy and its political elites.
President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia said on Saturday that the sanctions were “akin to a declaration of war” against his country.
Brittney Griner was stopped at an airport outside Moscow in February and accused of carrying hashish oil in her luggage. But much about the case, including the exact timing of her detention, remains unclear. https://t.co/1dyTq5Qcag
— The New York Times (@nytimes) March 6, 2022
The Times adds that U.S. officials have accused Russia of detaining American citizens on “trumped-up charges” for years.
Considering the current conflict in Ukraine, and Putin’s anger against the U.S. for supplying aid to Ukraine, it’s difficult to ignore the idea that detaining a high-profile American athlete could possibly be used as leverage against the U.S. in the ongoing Ukraine invasion.
I’m closely monitoring reports of Texan @brittneygriner's detention in Russia. This follows a pattern of Russia wrongly detaining & imprisoning US citizens, including Trevor Reed.
US citizens are not political pawns. Brittney, Trevor, and other Americans must be safely returned. https://t.co/UsYuS180sm
— Joaquin Castro (@JoaquinCastrotx) March 5, 2022
ManyWNBA players, including Griner, play for Russian teams during the U.S. league’s off-season due to the lucrative salaries. The Times reports she has played for the Russian team UMMC Ekaterinburg for several years.
The WNBA released a statement to USA Today saying, “Brittney Griner has the WNBA’s full support and our main priority is her swift and safe return to the United States.”
"Is it possible Griner broke the law, and law enforcement there is simply acting as it would with any other person? Yes, it's possible. It's just not believable," writes USA TODAY's @mikefreemanNFL. https://t.co/CJpBRYQJIj
— USA TODAY (@USATODAY) March 6, 2022
Griner’s wife, Cherelle Griner, issued this statement on her Instagram on Saturday:
“Thank you to everyone who has reached out to me regarding my wife’s safe return from Russia. Your prayers and support are greatly appreciated. I love my wife wholeheartedly, so this message comes during one of the weakest moments of my life.
“I understand that many of you have grown to love BG over the years and have concerns and want details. Please honor our privacy as we continue to work on getting my wife home safely. Thank you!”