What we know about Brittney Griner's arrest in Russia

What we know about Brittney Griner’s arrest in Russia

Griner, 31, is a championship-winning player with the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury and spends her offseasons playing for the Russian team UMMC Ekaterinburg.

Now, the mystery surrounding her detainment in Russia has come to symbolize the growing tensions between the US and Russia during Russia’s continued invasion of Ukraine.

Here’s what we know (and don’t) about what happened to the two-time Olympic champion:

The Russian Federal Customs Service said an American was detained at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport after being found with hash oil.

“As a US citizen was passing through the green channel at Sheremetyevo Airport upon arriving from New York, a working dog from the Sheremetyevo customs canine department detected the possible presence of narcotic substances in the accompanying luggage,” a statement from the customs service said.

“The customs inspection of the hand luggage being carried by the US citizen confirmed the presence of vapes with specifically smelling liquid, and an expert determined that the liquid was cannabis oil (hash oil), which is a narcotic substance.”

The Russian statement did not identify Griner by name, but said the detainee is an American professional basketball player and two-time US Olympian.

Griner’s wife, Cherelle Griner, has publicly called for the release of her wife.

And USA Basketball, the Women’s National Basketball Association, the Phoenix Mercury and the WNBA players’ union have all publicly shared their concerns for Griner’s situation in Russia.

When was Griner arrested?

The Russian customs agency said in a statement a US citizen was detained “in February of 2022,” after flying to Moscow from New York, but did not say what day.

The customs agency said the US citizen was placed in pre-trial detention and said a criminal case was underway for smuggling significant amounts of narcotic substances.

The offense carries a potential punishment of five to 10 years in prison.

Where is Griner now?

As of March 7, Griner’s exact whereabouts were not clear.

Her high school basketball coach, Debbie Jackson, said she worries Griner’s case will be used for political purposes.

“My biggest fear is that … she will become a political pawn,” Jackson told CNN.

What was Griner doing in Russia?

“Griner was in Russia for work: playing for UMMC Ekaterinburg, where in 2021 she helped the team win its fifth EuroLeague Women championship,” wrote Tamryn Spruill, a journalist who covers women’s basketball.
Spruill started the “Secure Brittney Griner’s Swift and Safe Return to the US” petition on Change.org.

“Like many athletes competing in the WNBA, Griner plays abroad during the WNBA offseason because her salary is exponentially higher in other countries,” Spruill wrote on the petition’s page.

“For WNBA players, that means playing abroad, while NBA rookies who haven’t played a professional game yet are handed salaries many-times higher than what title-winning, All-Star designated WNBA veterans could ever hope for,” Spruill said.

“These realities are not the fault of the players. They simply want to be paid their worth like their male counterparts, and they do not deserve to be entangled in geopolitical turmoil for doing so.”

What are the odds of getting Griner out of Russia?

A member of the US House Armed Services Committee said “it’s going to be very difficult” to get Griner out of Russia.

“Our diplomatic relationships with Russia are nonexistent at the moment,” Democratic Rep. John Garamendi of California told CNN on Monday.

“Perhaps during the various negotiations that may take place, she might be able to be one of the solutions. I don’t know.”

He also noted that “Russia has some very, very strict LGBT rules and laws” — though it’s not clear whether those rules and laws might impact Griner’s case.

But the Biden administration is working on trying to get Griner out of Russia, members of the Congressional Black Caucus said after meeting with President Joe Biden on Monday.

“The best news we got today was that they know about it and that she’s on the agenda,” Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, who represents Griner’s hometown of Houston, Texas, told reporters.

Noting a potential 10-year-sentence for Griner, Jackson Lee added: “We know about Britney Griner, and we know that we have to move on her situation.”

In an Instagram post, Griner’s wife described the agony of waiting.

“People say ‘stay busy.’ Yet, there’s not a task in this world that could keep any of us from worrying about you. My heart, our hearts, are all skipping beats everyday that goes by.” Cherelle Griner posted on Instagram on Monday.

“There are no words to express this pain. I’m hurting, we’re hurting.”

CNN’s Lucy Kafanov, Wayne Sterling, Rosa Flores, Allie Malloy, Elizabeth Joseph and Valery Yegorov contributed to this report.

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