Blinken: US is ready to help WNBA star detained in Moscow for ‘drug smuggling’

WNBA star and gold-medal winner Brittney Griner has been charged with drug smuggling and is being held in Russia as her wife pleads for her release and U.S. officials work to secure her freedom.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters he could not discuss details in the case but assured that the U.S. will “provide every possible assistance,” especially amid the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine.

“There’s only so much I can say given the privacy considerations at this point,” Blinken said Sunday at a joint press conference with Moldova President Maia Sandu, Reuters reported.

“Whenever an American is detained anywhere in the world, we of course stand ready to provide every possible assistance, and that includes in Russia,” he added. “We have an embassy team that’s working on the cases of other Americans who are detained in Russia. We’re doing everything we can to see to it that their rights are upheld and respected.”


(Video: Reuters)

Griner’s wife, Cherelle Griner, broke her silence on the situation with a message on Instagram posted Saturday, pleading for the release of the seven-time WNBA All-Star player and two-time Olympic gold medal-winner.

The 31-year-old who plays for the Phoenix Mercury was arrested last month at an airport in Russia after officials allegedly found “vape cartridges containing hash oil,” Reuters noted.

“I love my wife wholeheartedly, so this message comes during one of the weakest moments of my life,” Cherelle Griner said in her Instagram post on Saturday night. “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.”

“Your prayers and support are greatly appreciated,” she told the player’s fans.

 

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Griner, who stands at 6ft 9in tall, was detained at the Sheremetyevo airport in Moscow in February, according to the Russian Customs Service which did not name her on Saturday.

Reuters reported:

Russian news agency TASS identified the player as Griner, citing a source. Griner’s WNBA team, the Phoenix Mercury, said: “We are aware of and are closely monitoring the situation with Brittney Griner in Russia.”

A scan of the player’s luggage revealed cartridges containing “liquid with hashish oil”, and a criminal case has been opened carrying a possible sentence of five to 10 years in prison, the customs service said.

 

A spokesperson for Athlete Ally also commented on the situation Sunday.

“Our thoughts are with Brittney Griner, her loved ones, and her teammates during this terrifying ordeal,” the spokesperson for the pro-LGBTQ organization said. “Brittney has long been a powerful voice for LGBTQ+ equality. It’s critical that now we use our collective voice to call for her safe and swift return to her family.”

Many from Griner’s home state of Texas have also spoken out about the situation and a tweet from USA Basketball prompted a response from Texas Democrat Rep. Joaquin Castro

Texas Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee said at a press conference over the weekend that a Russian jail is “no place” for the Olympic star.

“We know that there were some issues dealing with vape cartridges and other items but let me be very clear,” the Democrat said. “Brittney Griner is a United States citizen, she was a guest in Russia…and I will be demanding her release.”

“I don’t want to disregard a sovereign nation, but Putin has disregarded sovereign nations his entire service in this world and anyone that is killing and attacking and destroying Ukraine, their neighboring country – that does not bother them has no right to hold Ms. Griner. Period,” Lee added. “If there is challenges and concerns about her actions, it should be dealt with diplomatically and she should be released.”

“I believe that at this time, in the midst of war, how dangerous being in Moscow, how dangerous it is to be in Moscow prisons … it is no place for her,” Lee said. “I would call upon Russia at this time to really stop harassing U.S. citizens, but more importantly to release those that are there and to not claim any upper hand or any sense of character in the pillage of murder and terroristic actions against the Ukrainians.”

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