The Russian Federal Customs Authority (RFCA) announced Saturday, March 5th, 2022, the arrest of an unnamed American citizen. That US citizen was basketball superstar Brittney Griner. Griner was detained, then later arrested at Sheremetyevo International Airport near Moscow Russia. Griner was traveling from the United States to Russia to be reunited with the Russian Team UMMC Ekaterinburg.
The Russian authorities claim that Griner allegedly had vape cartridges that contained THC oil. The Customs Authority has opened an investigation of “large scale transportation of drugs” which can garner a sentence of up to 10 years in prison if convicted, per a report from The New York Times.
The RFCA released the following video that shows Griner passing through the inbound customs inspection. A rough translation (Russian to English) of the text caption in the video states the following: “Customs officers in Sheremetyevo detained a US citizen with vape in the baggage on the green corridor. Employees discovered the vape cartridges when scanning one of the bags. Examination showed that they contain a liquid with a narcotic drug: cannabis oil.”
In the video, Griner can be seen being inspected by customs authority K9s. This is then followed by her walking to the x-ray scanner. Once her bags have been scanned the video clip skips to Griner rifling through her carry on bag, handing an agent different items from the bag. The next frame shows Griner sitting atop a table while being gestured to sign documents. This scene is one to cause grave concern as it is unknown whether Griner speaks Russian or if she understood what documents she was signing.
In the past 72 hours there has been an outpouring of support for Brittney Griner. The hashtags #FreeBrittneyGriner, #FreeGriner, and #BringBGHome have been trending since the news of her arrest was released. The Phoenix Mercury, USA Basketball, and the WNBA league have all issued statements concerning the arrest of Griner.
Griner, also known as BG to friends and fans alike, is a 6’9” center for the Phoenix Mercury. She is a highly accomplished professional athlete. She is a 2-time Olympic champion. She won 2 gold medals with the USA Women’s Basketball Team, in 2016 and 2020. She’s a world cup champion, winning gold in both 2014 and 2018. Griner has also won a WNBA championship with the Phoenix Mercury in 2014. Her accolades do not stop with winning gold medals or championships. She has racked up several notable awards throughout her professional career, and could potentially go down as the WNBA’s all-time leading shot blocker.
Her individual accomplishments in the WNBA at a glance:
- 3x All-WNBA First Team
- 7x WNBA All Star
- 8x WNBA block leader
- 3x All-WNBA Second Team
- 2x WNBA DPOY
- WNBA Rookie of the Year
- WNBA 25th Anniversary Team
Her success doesn’t stop with all that she has achieved in the United States. During her time with the Russian team UMMC Ekaterinburg she has won the Russian National League Championship three times. She has also won the EuroLeague championship with Ekaterinburg four times and is a Russian cup winner.
Russia waited three weeks after the arrest to release the footage and news to the general public, raising speculation of the timing and motive behind the action taken toward Griner. This has caused myself and many other fans to speculate whether the alleged crime of possession and trafficking are trumped up charges from the Russian government. This is far from the first time that the Putin-led Russian government has wrongly detained American citizens for their political agenda.
The arrest can be viewed as a calculated move on behalf of the Russian governement because of the timing. It came mere weeks before Russia entered into a formal conflict with Ukraine. Griner’s arrival into Russia was expected as she has played for a Russian team since 2014. Her fame in the US and Russia give a clear motive as to why Russia may have planned this arrest. This could be a part of their strategy to attempt to gain the upper hand amongst the sanctions from the US.
NATO allies have placed Russia on notice. The world has started shutting down all business proceedings with Russia. Assets have been frozen. The war in Ukraine has proven to be more difficult than Russia initially believed it would be. Russia needed an ace in the hole. In the eyes of the Russian government the detainment of a high profile American citizen could be perceived as the leverage they need. Griner, a well versed traveler in and out of Russian territory would have had no reason to be suspect of any malicious motives that Russia was planning behind the scenes.
As a US Olympian, and a professional US basketball superstar, Griner becomes their bargaining chip. Brittney Griner has become a political pawn that is being held hostage in a totalitarian country in the middle of a war.