Totally Trustworthy Russia Detains WNBA Star Brittney Griner On Totally Legit Drug Charges
Russia announced Saturday that it had detained “an American basketball player” on drug charges. The player was identified by the Russian news agency Tass as Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner. That’s not the kind of news you want to hear right now. Russian Federal Customs Service officials say they found vape cartridges that contained hashish oil in Griner's luggage at the Sheremetyevo airport near Moscow. This all went down sometime last month.
In a statement, Griner’s agent, Lindsay Kagawa Colas, did not dispute reports of her client’s detention. “We are aware of the situation with Brittney Griner in Russia and are in close contact with her, her legal representation in Russia, her family, her teams and the W.N.B.A. and N.B.A.,” she said.
Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, plays for the Russian team UMMC Ekaterinburg during her off-seasons from the WNBA. She’s also Black and openly lesbian, and those aren’t great things to be in Russia during the best of times. After Vladimir Putin's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, the US has led dozens of other nations in imposing severe sanctions that have put Russia’s economy in free fall. It's not hard to see how Russia might want to use somebody high-profile like Griner as leverage.
The Russian Federal Customs Service released this video of airport security going through Griner’s luggage.
The Russian Federal Customs Service have released this video in which airport security are seen going through the luggage of a passenger identified as Brittney Griner.pic.twitter.com/gHJ8XoMYvF— Bryan Armen Graham (@Bryan Armen Graham) 1646508214
Griner’s current whereabouts are unclear. A criminal case against her has reportedly been opened, and she could serve up to 10 years in prison if found guilty of bringing drugs into Russia. A journalist with Foreign Policy described Russian prisons as a "Dostoevsky novel come to life,” or in plain English, they suck. According to a 2008 cable signed by George W. Bush’s ambassador to Russia, William J. Burns, Russia’s inhumane prison system "combines the country’s emblematic features — vast distances, harsh climate, and an uncaring bureaucracy — and fuses them into a massive instrument of punishment."
So we need to get Griner the fuck out of Russia.
Michael McFaul, Barack Obama’s ambassador to Russia, said Griner’s arrest should serve as a “wake-up call to all Americans in Russia. Get out. Shut down your businesses now.” I don’t like the idea of Griner as a “wake-up call.” That sounds like she’s already been dismissed as an object lesson.
Griner is from Houston, and her hometown representative Sheila Jackson Lee is on the case:
“We know that there were some issues dealing with vape cartridges and other items but let me be very clear,” Lee, who represents Griner’s hometown of Houston, Texas, in Congress, said on Saturday. “Brittney Griner is a United States citizen, she was a guest in Russia…and I will be demanding her release.”
Rep. Joaquin Castro from Texas observed on Twitter that Griner’s detention "follows a pattern of Russia wrongly detaining & imprisoning US citizens, including Trevor Reed. US citizens are not political pawns. Brittney, Trevor, and other Americans must be safely returned.”
Trevor Reed is a US Marine currently serving a nine-year sentence in a Russian prison for the alleged 2019 assault of two Moscow cops. According to his parents, Reed contracted tuberculosis from another prisoner and is currently coughing up blood after being refused medical treatment. This is so fucked up.
Evelyn Farkas served as deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia and Ukraine during the Obama administration. She told Yahoo Sports that she’s concerned Russia’s holding Griner as “leverage against the United States.” Putin might consider Griner a “high-profile hostage” who could serve as a valuable bargaining chip.
“If we want her out of jail, Russia is going to have some terms,” said Farkas, who served as the U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Russia and Ukraine from 2012-15. “It could be a prisoner swap. They also could use it as an implicit threat or blackmail to get us to do something or not do something. Either way, they find it useful.”
This is probably true as long as Russia doesn’t pay attention to the anti-LGBTQ laws in Florida and Texas. We at least have a presidential administration right now that considers her an actual US citizen. However, Democratic Rep. John Garamendi of California is not optimistic about getting Griner out of Russia.
"Our diplomatic relationships with Russia are nonexistent at the moment," Democratic Rep. John Garamendi of California told CNN on Monday.
"Perhaps during the various negotiations that may take place, she might be able to be one of the solutions. I don't know."
Griner’s wife, Cherelle Griner, posted a photo of the couple on Instagram with these gutting words: "I love my wife wholeheartedly, so this message comes during one of the weakest moments of my life. I understand that many of you have grown to love BG over the years and have concerns and want details. Please honor our privacy as we continue to work on getting my wife home safely."
The US needs to do everything it can to secure Griner's and Reed’s release. They aren’t prisoners of war, even if Russia might try to treat them as such.
And on that note, OPEN THREAD.
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Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He writes make believe for Cafe Nordo, an immersive theatre space in Seattle. Once, he wrote a novel called “Mahogany Slade,” which you should read or at least buy. He's also on the board of the Portland Playhouse theatre. His son describes him as a “play typer guy."