US State Department pushing to see WNBA star Griner; NBA commissioner steps in

The State Department said Tuesday it was still trying to have regular contact with WNBA star Brittney Griner of the Phoenix Mercury, who has been detained in Russia for nearly three months.

A consular official was able to meet Griner last week, when his pretrial detention in Russia was extended for a month. Griner has been detained – wrongfully, according to US officials – since February, after vaping cartridges containing cannabis-derived oil were allegedly found in her luggage at a Moscow airport.

The NBA also weighed in on the issue on Tuesday, with commissioner Adam Silver saying in a TV interview that he was working “side by side” with WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert to try to bring Griner home.

“This consular officer came away with the impression that Brittney Griner is doing as well as expected under conditions that can only be described as extremely difficult,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said in Washington. “But sporadic contacts are not satisfactory. It may also not be in accordance with the Vienna Convention to which Russia has subscribed.”

Griner, 31, a two-time Olympic gold medalist for the United States, faces drug trafficking charges which carry a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison. The Biden administration says Griner is being wrongfully detained. The WNBA and US officials worked on his release, with no visible progress.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken has spoken with Griner’s wife in recent days, Price said.

“He once again expressed the priority we place on the liberation of all Americans around the world, including Brittney Griner in the case of Russia, Paul Whelan in the case of Russia, those Americans whom we view as wrongfully detained,” Price said. . “This has been a priority for Secretary Blinken since the early days of his tenure.”

Whelan is a Michigan corporate security official who was detained in Russia. He was arrested in December 2018 on his way to a friend’s wedding and later sentenced to 16 years in prison on espionage-related charges which his family say are false.

Silver, speaking to ESPN in a Chicago TV interview ahead of Tuesday night’s NBA draw, said his league followed expert advice when it didn’t take an aggressive approach early in the season. detention of Griner.

“We have been in contact with the White House, the State Department, hostage negotiators, all levels of government and also through the private sector,” Silver said. “Our No. 1 priority is her health and safety and getting her out of Russia.”