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Former U.S. Ambassador Says Brittney Griner’s Arrest Sounds Like Hostage Situation

WNBA star Brittney Griner was arrested in mid-February at a Moscow airport, and Russia’s Customs Service has opened a criminal case against Griner for the “large-scale transportation of drugs,” per The New York Times.

This can carry a jail sentence of up to 10 years in Russia. 

In a video released a few weeks ago, she can be seen going through a security checkpoint at the airport, and the video cuts to the next frame, where an individual is looking through the contents of her bag.

In the same Russian TV segment noted by CNN, a Russian official was interviewed about the hashish oil cartridges found in the former Mercury center’s suitcase. Hashish oil is a more concentrated form of marijuana, and is commonly consumed in vape form.

“An expert determined that the liquid is a narcotic drug, cannabis oil,” the Russian government official said according to CNN. “A criminal case has been opened against an American citizen for smuggling a significant amount of drugs.”

News of her arrest, though, did not become public until early March, well after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and when sanctions were already underway against the country for its aggression. 

As reported by The Washington Post, one of the questions concerning her arrest is whether the allegations are true, or if Griner was targeted for being a high profile figure. Daniel Fried, who was the former U.S. ambassador to Poland under President Bill Clinton, seemed to lean towards the latter of the two options in an interview with The Post

“I can’t say definitively she didn’t [do the crime], but the first thought I had when I read about [the arrest] is this sounds like [the Russians] taking an American hostage,” said the assistant secretary of state for Europe under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. “It wouldn’t surprise me at all if they would do that—plant drugs and grab her. The American embassy and the U.S. government has been aware of the possibility of the Russians using Americans in Moscow as bargaining chips.

“It would be just like the Russians to do this—pick somebody, make a case. Unless there is actual evidence [implicating Griner], which would frankly surprise me, I would regard this as a political case, and I feel badly for this person who is caught up in it.”

Griner’s arrest happened as tensions increase between Russia and the United States. Russia launched an attack on Ukraine on Feb. 24, and the war has continued to escalate as countries across the world as well as the European Union levy sanctions. 

Calls for Griner’s release have been echoed across the country as the WNBA, Team USA and Phoenix have all released statements hoping for her well-being. 

U.S. Rep Colin Allred said to CNN that Griner has been held in Russia “without official government access to her,​” for three weeks. He added that the American embassy has requested consular access, but it has been denied. 

Griner, 31, is a seven-time WNBA All-Star who won gold medals with Team USA in 2016 and ’21. She has played in the Russian Premier League for UMMC Ekaterinburg since ’14.

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