Phoenix Mercury’s Brittney Griner detained in Russia

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Phoenix Mercury star Brittney Griner was arrested in Russia last month after allegedly being caught with cannabis oil at a Russian airport. Griner, 31, spends her off-seasons playing for the Russian team UMMC Ekaterinburg. 

The Russian Federal Customs Service said in a statement that a “working dog from the Sheremetyevo customs canine department detected the possible presence of narcotic substances in the accompanying luggage.” The customs agency said Griner’s arrest happened in February, but the exact date has not been released.

Attempts to get Griner out of Russia will be complicated by the war on Ukraine. Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, said the United States is working to free Americans in Russian custody, but did not specifically mention Griner’s name. 

Phoenix Mercury released a statement saying they are in constant contact with Griner’s family, and their top priority is her safety, health and return home.

We talked to Jacob Lassin, a postdoctoral research scholar at Arizona State University’s Melikian Center for Russian, Eurasian and East European Studies, about Griner’s situation.

Lassin said that Griner was likely in Russia to begin with because during the off-season, a lot of WMBA players can get paid significantly more by playing for overseas teams. Lassin said it is unclear why the news of Griner’s detainment is only now surfacing.

“It’s a very murky situation right now,” Lassin said. He said he is not sure about Griner’s exact status, or whether or not she has been able to contact her family or legal council.

“We’re kind of all in the dark here,” Lassin said.

All of the top-level U.S. officials have either left or been expelled from Russia, due to Russia’s war in Ukraine. Despite the lack of physical presence of U.S. officials in Russia, Lassin said the U.S. can aide the situation by putting pressure on Russia through backchannels and other ally countries.

 

 

Jacob Lassin, PH.D., ASU's Melikian Center

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