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Former NBA Champion Dennis Rodman stated Saturday that he plans on traveling to Russia to aid in the release of WNBA superstar Brittney Griner.
Nearly six months after being detained in Moscow, Griner was found guilty of an attempt to smuggle illegal narcotics into Russia, according to her lawyers. The court sentenced her to nine years in prison, a year shy of the 10-year maximum.
She also faces a fine of $1 million rubles, roughly $16,300.
The guilty verdict, which many expected in a warmongering country known for giving harsh sentences to foreign nationals, comes months after Russian authorities arrested Griner at a Moscow airport after finding a vape pen containing less than a gram of cannabis extracts in her luggage.
Rodman believes he can help Griner even as Biden administration expresses skepticism
“I got permission to go to Russia to help that girl,” Rodman told NBC News at a restaurant in D.C. “I’m trying to go this week.” While Rodman sees himself as a bridge between countries, he is more likely to hurt than help, said a senior Biden administration official.
“It’s public information that the administration has made a significant offer to the Russians and anything other than negotiating further through the established channel is likely to complicate and hinder release efforts,” the official said.
If Rodman goes to Russia, it won’t be the first time he has conducted informal diplomacy with an international leader who has strained relations with the U.S.
Rodman has cultivated a relationship with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un over the past decade, making multiple visits to the hermit kingdom. He called Russian President Vladimir Putin “cool” after a 2014 trip to Moscow. In 2018, he showed up on the sidelines of former President Donald Trump’s meeting with Kim in Singapore. And he has credited himself with helping to secure the release of American Kenneth Bae from North Korea.
The U.S. has imposed stiff sanctions on Russia in response to its invasion of Ukraine and is aiding Ukraine’s forces. Griner’s imprisonment has created an additional source of tension between the two countries — and a potential avenue for diplomacy.