What do we know about the detention of Brittany Griner in Russia?

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What do we know about the detention of Brittany Griner in Russia?

As tensions between Russia and the United States escalated, Russian authorities detained WNBA star, Brittany Griner, on drug charges. The Russian Federal Customs Service announced Ms Griner’s detention on Saturday, but said she was stopped at Sheremetyevo airport near Moscow last month.

The detention of Ms. Griner, 31, a seven-time WNBA All-Star center for the Phoenix Mercury and a key figure on two champion Olympic teams, comes during a fiery standoff between Russia and the United States over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and draws player in the midst of the most intense crisis between the two countries since the Cold War.

Here’s what we know so far about Ms Griner’s detention.

The Russian Federal Customs Service said a sniffer had prompted it to search the carry-on luggage of an American basketball player at Sheremetyevo Airport near Moscow, and found vape cartridges containing hashish oil. A state-owned Russian news agency then identified the player as Ms Griner.

Hashish oil is a marijuana concentrate that contains a high concentration of the psychoactive chemical THC, and is commonly sold in cartridges similar to those used in vape pens. The Russian Federal Customs Service said the vapes were seen after customs officials scanned the passenger’s bag.

The Customs Service said a criminal case had been opened in the mass transport of drugs, a charge that could carry up to 10 years in prison.

It released a video of a passenger posing as Ms Griner going through airport security with a trolley suitcase and a small bag, followed by footage of someone checking a package from a passenger’s suitcase. after.

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“Britney has always handled herself with utmost professionalism during her long stint with USA Basketball,” USA Basketball said on twitter,

Screening at the airport took place in February, according to the customs service, raising the possibility that Ms Griner had been in custody for at least several days. She last posted on Instagram on February 5. Providing the timing leaves open the possibility that the case may have been going on in secret for weeks before Russian officials drew attention to it.

It is still unclear whether Russia will target Ms Griner as a leverage against the United States, which has made a sweeping effort to impose harsh sanctions on Russia and its elite.

Citing a lack of confidentiality, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken did not comment on the detention at a news conference in Chisinau, Moldova, on Sunday, and did not answer questions about whether Russia had announced his arrest as an economic, military and retaliatory measure. In recent days, the US has built diplomatic pressure against Russia.

But US officials have repeatedly accused Russia of detaining American citizens on dubious pretexts.

Texas Democrat Joaquin Castro wrote on Twitter on Saturday, “This follows a pattern of unfairly detaining and imprisoning U.S. citizens from Russia, citing the case of Trevor Reid, a former U.S. Marine, Who was sentenced to nine years in prison by a Russian court in what his family and supporters described as fraud on charges of violence against police officers in 2020.

On Saturday, the State Department issued an updated advisory urging US citizens to leave Russia immediately because of the “possibility of harassment against US citizens by security officials of the Russian government.”

Ms. Griner has played for Russian team UMMC Ekaterinburg for several years during the WNBA off-season.

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Many American players compete with high-paying Russian teams: About 70 WNBA players, along with a dozen in Russia and Ukraine, decided to play with international teams rather than rest during the off-season this year. Is.

A WNBA spokeswoman said on Saturday that everyone else had already left Russia and Ukraine.

Financial incentives are compelling. WNBA players make up a fraction of their male counterparts, with their maximum salary in 2022 being $228,094, while top NBA players are paid tens of millions of dollars.

International women’s teams, which have more government and corporate financial support than the WNBA, can pay hundreds of thousands of dollars and sometimes more than $1 million a season.

some supervisors criticized The gender pay gap in American basketball in relation to the detention of Ms. Griner.

Mr Blinken said the State Department would “provide all possible assistance” to any American held by a foreign government.

“Whenever an American is detained anywhere in the world, we are certainly ready to provide all possible assistance,” Mr Blinken said. “And that includes Russia.”

The WNBA said in a statement that Ms. Griner “has the full support of the WNBA and our main priority is her speedy and safe return to the United States.”

Mercury also issued a statement saying they “love and support Britney” and that their main concerns were her safety, her physical and mental health, and her safe homecoming.

“Thank you to everyone who reached out to me regarding my wife’s safe return from Russia,” Ms. Griner’s wife, Cherrell T. Griner, posted on Instagram on Saturday. continue to do. ,

Lara Jake Contributed reporting from Chisinau, Moldova.

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