Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner just became a pawn in Russia’s escalating aggression.
March 5, 2022

The news of Griner’s detention was announced very close to the news that the U.S. State Department is advising all U.S. citizens to leave Russia immediately. Whether the two events are related is not clear at this time.

Griner was detained after Russian customs officials said vape cartridges containing hashish oil were found in her luggage. Although the news broke of Griner’s detention today, she may have already been in custody since February.

Here’s what the New York Times reported about Griner’s detention:

The screening at the airport occurred in February, according to the Customs Service, raising the possibility that Griner has been in custody for at least several days.

According to the statement, a criminal case has been opened into the large-scale transportation of drugs, which can carry a sentence of up to 10 years behind bars in Russia. The basketball player was taken into custody while the investigation was ongoing, the officials said.

The arrest of a high-profile American could be seen as Russia’s attempting to create leverage for a potential prisoner exchange with the American government or a reduction in sanctions related to the invasion.

Many W.N.B.A. players compete in Russia, where salaries are more lucrative, during the American league’s off-season. Griner has played for the Russian team UMMC Ekaterinburg for several years.

On MSNBC, intelligence and terrorism expert Malcolm Nance said he “ran the school for the Department of Defense” for this kind of detention. Then he explained Russia’s likely plan.

NANCE: Hostile government detention is a political tactic that is used by foreign governments when they intend to intimidate an innocent person. Usually they claim the person is a spy, and then what they do is they try to gain leverage through the detention of that individual, and they’ll make up things. She may not have had oil in there. Or they'll find something innocuous. The key is they want this person to start talking on television, to apologize to the people of Russia, to confess to crimes, which, by the way, is conviction in Russia.

Nance also had some advice for Griner:

NANCE: If anybody knows her lawyer, here's the only words that need to come out of her month: “I want to see the U.S. ambassador. I want diplomatic representation, no matter which country it is." Boom, nothing else. Because she is now a pawn in an international game.

Let’s hope someone can get the message to her and/or her lawyer.

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