Russia announced on Saturday that WNBA player Brittney Griner was arrested for possession of cannabis vaping cartridges, an offense that could face the All-Star athlete a prison sentence of up to 10 years. Griner’s arrest comes amid a war between Russia and Ukraine, which began with a Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine.
The Russian customs service said on Saturday that an American basketball player had been detained after the cannabis vape cartridges were found in her luggage at Sheremetyevo airport near Moscow, although Griner was not identified by name and the date of the arrest was not specified. The Customs Service also issued a video which appears to depict Griner going through a security checkpoint at the airport.
Russian news agency TASS later reported that the arrested player was Griner, who plays for the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury. Although the date of Griner’s arrest was not announced, media reported that she was in custody since February. Lindsay Kagawa Colas, Griner’s agent, appeared to confirm reports of the arrest in a statement on Saturday.
“We are aware of Brittney Griner’s situation in Russia and are in close contact with her, her legal representation in Russia, her family, her teams and the WNBA and NBA,” Kagawa Colas said. noted. “As this is an ongoing legal case, we are unable to comment further on the specifics of her case, but we can confirm that, as we strive to bring her home, her mental health and physics remains our main concern.”
WNBA Star Player
Griner is a two-time Olympic gold medalist, played on the Mercury League Championship Team in 2014 and was a league all-star seven times. She was in Russia to play the winter basketball season, a practice common to many WNBA players. She has played in Russia for the past seven seasons, earning more than $1 million a year, about four times her annual salary with the WNBA. On January 29, she played her last game with her team UMMC Ekaterinburg before the Russian league went on a two-week break for the FIBA World Cup qualifying tournaments.
“Brittney Griner has the full support of the WNBA, and our top priority is her quick and safe return to the United States,” the league said. noted in a statement on Saturday.
More than a dozen WNBA players, including league MVP Jonquel Jones and two league champion Chicago Sky players, Courtney Vandersloot and Allie Quigley, were in Ukraine and Russia to play basketball this winter. The WNBA said on Saturday that all players except Griner had left the two warring countries. The players’ union also issued a statement of support on Monday.
“We are aware of the situation in Russia regarding one of our members, Brittney Griner. Our greatest concern is the safety and well-being of BG,” the WNBAPA said. “On behalf of 144, we send our love and support. We will continue to follow closely and look forward to his return to the United States.
Russia and Ukraine at war
Griner’s arrest comes amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, potentially entwining him in an ongoing diplomatic spat between the United States and Russia. On Saturday, the same day news of Griner’s arrest made headlines, the US State Department issued a travel advisory warning Americans not to travel to Russia, citing “the potential for harassment against American citizens by Russian government security officials” and “the embassy’s ability to assist” Americans in the country.
News of Griner’s arrest was quickly reprimanded by US officials. Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, who represents Griner’s hometown of Houston in the U.S. House of Representatives, released a statement over the weekend calling for his release.
“We know there have been issues with vape cartridges and other items, but let me be very clear,” she said. noted at a public event Saturday, “Brittney Griner is an American citizen; she was invited to Russia… and I will demand her release.
Texas Democratic Rep. Joaquin Castro took to social media to demand Griner’s release.
“This follows a pattern of Russia wrongfully detaining and imprisoning American citizens, including Trevor Reed,” Castro said. wrote on Twitter. “American citizens are not political pawns. Brittney, Trevor and the other Americans must be returned safely,” he added, referring to Griner and a former US Marine sentenced in 2020 to nine years in prison for assaulting two police officers. His family says the charges are false and politically motivated.
Michael A. McFaul, former US Ambassador to Russia, warned all Americans remaining in Russia to leave the country immediately.
“I obviously don’t know the circumstances of his detention, but Griner’s arrest should serve as a wake-up call to all Americans in Russia,” McFaul said. Recount the New York Times. “Get out. Close your businesses now.
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