US State Department demands Russia access detained WNBA star Britney Griner


State Department officials say they have not had access to Brittney Griner since she was arrested at the Moscow airport on Feb. 17 for allegedly carrying cannabis oil in her suitcase.

Finally, after a month, a State Department official released a statement Thursday saying: “We insist that the Russian government grant consular access to all detainees of US citizens in Russia, including those on remand, like Brittney Griner is.”

Other than a photo of the WNBA All-Star holding up a piece of paper with her name on it, released by Russian authorities on March 8, not much was learned about her detention until Thursday, when the Russian news agency Tass reported that a Moscow De court has extended her arrest until May 19.

The State Department’s insistence that Russia allow access to Griner marks a clear change of tone. So far, the government has kept quiet with its case. Some say the government’s strategy is not to raise its profile to the point where it could become a valuable political asset to Russia, while others view the government’s inaction as indifference.

Powerful Cultural Symbol

ESPN investigative reporter TJ Quinn said a limited response from the WNBA, the Biden administration and even Griner’s family could be deliberate. The absence of a spotlight and excessive media attention, said Quinn of the ESPN Daily podcast, could well work in Griner’s favor.

“People around Brittney and the U.S. government know that if you make too much of a problem here, you risk not only drawing attention to it, but adding value to her as an asset.”

And if the perception is that Griner is a powerful cultural symbol, Quinn noted, Russian President Putin might decide to make an example of her.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs says it is under discussion. “We are closely involved in this case and are in regular contact with Brittney Griner’s legal team… We have repeatedly requested consular access to these detainees and have been consistently denied entry.”

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