US Government Done Sitting On Ass About Russian Detention Of Brittney Griner
WNBA star Brittney Griner has been held in Russian custody since late February, after Russian Federal Customs Service officials claim they found vape cartridges containing hashish oil in Griner's luggage at the Sheremetyevo airport near Moscow. The US government now officially considers Griner “wrongly detained,” a significant shift in how US officials are treating the situation.
"The welfare and safety of U.S. citizens abroad is among the highest priorities of the U.S government," the State Department said. "The Department of State has determined that the Russian Federation has wrongfully detained U.S. citizen Brittney Griner.
"... The U.S. government will continue to undertake efforts to provide appropriate support to Ms. Griner."
The US government will no longer wait to see how Griner’s case plays out through a corrupt Russian legal system, where Griner faces up to 10 years in prison if found guilty of bringing drugs into Russia. The prisons in Russia aren’t ideal for anyone, but Griner is Black and openly gay. It’s probably even worse than Florida.
There was concern that if the US government immediately demanded Griner’s release, it would give Russia leverage during its ongoing and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. The State Department had advised Griner’s team to keep a low profile. However, Evelyn Farkas, who served as deputy assistant secretary of Defense for Russia and Ukraine during the Obama administration, told Yahoo Sports that Russian President Vladimir Putin presumably already considered Griner a “high-profile hostage” who could serve as a valuable bargaining chip. She said, “If we want her out of jail, Russia is going to have some terms.” Well, it seems as if the US government is ready to negotiate, and Griner’s fellow WNBA players and supporters in Congress can start bringing as much public attention to her case as possible.
Nneka Ogwumike, the president of the WNBA players' union, posted this statement on social media:
It has been 75 days that our friend, teammate, sister, Brittney Griner, has been wrongfully detained in Russia. It is time for her to come home. Having learned that the U.S. government has now determined that BG is being wrongfully detained we are hopeful that their efforts will be significant, swift and successful.
You’ll notice that everyone is studiously using the term “wrongfully detained” instead of “hostage,” as there is a clear legal distinction.
Griner’s team felt slightly optimistic after US Marine Trevor Reed was released last week. He was serving a nine-year sentence in a Russian prison for the alleged 2019 assault of two Moscow cops. After what Biden administration officials called “months and months of hard, careful work,” Reed was reportedly swapped for a Russian citizen convicted of drug smuggling. There were serious concerns about Reed’s health, as he’d been exposed to tuberculosis and was coughing up blood at one point after being refused medical treatment.
Reed’s release indicated that despite the US actively helping punish Russia for the Ukraine invasion, there are still open diplomatic channels between the two nations. According to a source close to Griner, former United Nations ambassador Bill Richardson has agreed to work on her case. Richardson’s special set of skills includes international hostage negotiation, and he played an active role in securing Reed’s release. Experts believe his involvement is a good sign that Griner’s case is moving in the right direction.
Russian authorities haven’t bothered formally charging Griner with anything, but she’s scheduled to have a hearing on May 19. The US government considers the sham proceedings irrelevant to its final objective, which is bringing her home safe.
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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."