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Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner is shown during the first half of Game 2 of basketball’s WNBA Finals against the Chicago Sky, Oct. 13, 2021, in Phoenix. Griner remains in Russia two months after she was detained arriving at a Moscow airport in mid-February. Russian authorities said a search of her luggage revealed vape cartridges that allegedly contained oil derived from cannabis, which could carry a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.

Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner is shown during the first half of Game 2 of basketball’s WNBA Finals against the Chicago Sky, Oct. 13, 2021, in Phoenix. Griner remains in Russia two months after she was detained arriving at a Moscow airport in mid-February. Russian authorities said a search of her luggage revealed vape cartridges that allegedly contained oil derived from cannabis, which could carry a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison. (Rick Scuteri/AP)

The release of Trevor Reed in a prisoner swap with Russia has refocused attention on the plight of Brittney Griner, the WNBA star who has been detained in Russia since mid-February.

Griner, an Olympic gold medalist and seven-time all-star with the Phoenix Mercury, was arrested Feb. 17 and accused by Russian officials of having vape cartridges containing hashish oil in her luggage at Sheremetyevo Airport near Moscow, an offense that could carry a sentence of up to 10 years in prison. In March, Russian state media reported that her detention had been extended to May 19.

“We are working very closely with her team. Her case is a top priority for us,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told CNN Wednesday morning. “I can tell you that with the utmost certainty. We’re in regular contact with her team, we regularly are engaging through our embassy in Moscow with their counterparts in order to see to it that she’s treated fairly, to see to it that we have the consistent access to her that the Russians are required under the Vienna Convention to provide.

“We will continue to pay very close attention to this case, to seek its resolution as we seek the release of Paul Whelan.”

Whelan, a former security executive, has been in custody in Russia since his arrest at a Moscow hotel in December 2018. On Wednesday, Reed, a Marine veteran imprisoned on charges that U.S. officials viewed as bogus, was swapped for a Russian drug trafficker serving a lengthy prison sentence in the United States. Reed has recently been ill with tuberculosis, and his parents had lobbied for a prisoner swap.

Griner’s arrest came as she was returning to Russia, where she often plays for UMMC Ekaterinburg during the WNBA offseason. Updates on her condition have been infrequent, although she was visited by a U.S. Embassy official in late March and was described by Price as “doing as well as can be expected.”

“The consular officer who visited with Brittney Griner was able to verify that she is doing as well as can be expected under these very difficult circumstances,” Price said in a March 23 news conference. “We’ll continue to work very closely with her legal team, with her broader network, to see to it that she is treated fairly and that her rights are respected.”

Griner’s high profile has drawn intense attention, but officials and her team have worked quietly for her release, preferring to work under the radar because of the sensitivity of the situation since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Lindsay Kagawa Colas, who is one of her representatives, described the behind-the-scenes work in a Los Angeles Times op-ed Tuesday.

“I spend hours in communication every day with a dedicated group of people who are working to get BG home. It is a community filled with activists - including WNBA players who’ve led some of our most important cultural conversations in recent years,” Colas wrote. “It’s a community that chooses its words carefully, that’s used to moving together as a unit. For now, that community is doing its best to trust in BG’s legal team and have confidence in the White House’s commitment to doing everything in their power to bring Brittney home.”


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