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Russian President Vladimir Putin’s top spokesman gave no indication Monday that WNBA star Brittney Griner will be released soon by Russian authorities who say they found hashish oil in her luggage.
In an exclusive interview with NBC News’ Keir Simmons, the spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, disputed the State Department’s position that Griner is a Russian hostage. On Monday’s interview in Moscow, talks of Griner’s freedom were had as the Kremlin cracks down on journalists, limiting what reporters can say under threat of imprisonment.
Brittney Griner remains in a foreign jail over alleged hash oil.
State Department officials met on June 14 with representatives of Brittney Griner’s WNBA team about the Phoenix Mercury star’s months-long detention in Russia and the Biden administration’s efforts to secure her release.
Griner, he said, was no different from “hundreds and hundreds of Russian citizens that were sentenced for carrying hashish.” He continued,“Why should we make an exemption for a foreign citizen?”
Griner has been locked up in Russia since Feb. 17
Most recently, Phoenix Mercury’s Brittney Griner faced a May 13 court hearing, where her detainment was extended another 30 days, according to her lawyer, Alexander Boikov. Considering those 30 days have passed and it’s her third extension to date, it’s unclear what happens next for Griner and those worried about her safe return. The most recent extension leaves her behind Russian bars until at least July 2.
Griner, 31, was detained in February after she landed in Moscow; authorities said a search of her bag revealed vape cartridges containing hashish oil, a derivative of cannabis. The offense could carry a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison according to Russian law.
In May, the State Department reclassified Brittney Griner as wrongfully detained and transferred oversight of her case to the State Department Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs, or SPEHA.
Russia remains defiant even after US probe
“She violated Russian law, and now she’s being prosecuted,” Peskov said. “It’s not about being a hostage. There are lots of American citizens here. They’re enjoying their freedoms … but you have to obey the laws.”
According to NBC News, asked why Russia didn’t refuse Griner entry or hasn’t just sent her home, Peskov said he couldn’t comment on Russian law enforcement’s decision.
Griner’s agent, Lindsay Kagawa Colas, said this month that “it remains clear that BG is being used as a political pawn,” and she urged President Joe Biden to do whatever is necessary to bring her home.
Brittney Griner, a 6-foot-9 native of Houston, has won two Olympic gold medals, a WNBA championship with the Mercury and a national title at Baylor University. She is ranked as one of the top 25 WNBA players since its founding in 1996.
Much of the domestic conversation revolving around Griner has included the possibility of her being swapped for another Russian prisoner in the same manner Trevor Reed was awarded his long-awaited freedom, however, those talks have not materialized into a tangible evacuation or release for Griner to date.