MOSCOW, Russia — Brittney Griner was detained in Moscow back on Feb. 17. Since then, Griner's wife has had communications with the State Department but there's little knowledge on what's next for the WNBA star.
The two-time Olympic gold medalist and seven-time WNBA All-Star who plays for the Phoenix Mercury was detained at the Moscow airport after Russian authorities allegedly found vape cartridges containing oil derived from cannabis. The penalty for such a crime in Russia is punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
Griner, 31, and several other WNBA players joined the Russian Women's Basketball Premier League over the winter. She was traveling through the "green" corridor at Sheremetyevo Airport in Moscow when a canine indicated the presence of narcotic drugs, reports from Russia's Federal Customs Service cited.
Back in May, three months into Griner's detainment, she appeared for a brief hearing in which her pre-trial detention had been extended by a month. Her lawyer, Alexander Boikov, said to the Associated Press the relatively short extension could have some indication that the case would come to trial "soon."
Griner appeared for the brief hearing handcuffed, wearing an orange hoodie and hanging her head.
However, since then, her detention has been extended two additional times as Griner is expected to remain in Russian custody through at least July 2, according to the Russian state-run media.
State Department spokesperson Ned Price told reporters on June 14 they had only learned of Griner's extended detention through Tass, NPR reports.
"This case is problematic from top to bottom," he said in a report by NPR. "It is precisely why we have characterized Brittney Griner as an unlawful detainee. It's precisely why we are doing everything we can to seek and to affect her prompt release from Russian detention."
The Biden administration says Griner is being wrongfully detained. The WNBA and U.S. officials have worked toward her release, without visible progress.
Since her detainment, the WNBA star's supporters have worried that Moscow will use her as a bargaining chip amid tensions over its war in Ukraine.
According to the Russian news agency, Tass, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov was responding to US media reports the Biden administration had offered to exchange convicted arms trader Viktor Bout for Griner. However, a report cited a top Russian diplomat as saying that she will not be considered for detainee swaps until her case has been investigated.
Representatives from Arizona are working on a bipartisan deal to secure Griner’s release along with another American, Michigan corporate security executive Paul Whelan.
Griner has however been able to receive emails and letters from WNBA players during her detainment in Russia, the Associated Press reports. An account set up by her agent has received hundreds of letters. The emails are printed out and delivered sporadically, AP reports, in bunches to Griner's lawyer, Boikov, after they've been pored over by Russian officials.
Griner doesn't have access to the email account, but she replies to them by writing a response on paper and her lawyers will take a photo of it or she'll dictate a response if paper isn't available.
Over the Juneteenth weekend, Griner tried to call her wife, Cherelle Griner, 11 times over a period of several hours for an arranged phone call on the couple's fourth anniversary, but they were never connected since the phone line at the embassy was not staffed, Cherelle Griner told the Associated Press Monday.
The State Department said Monday they "deeply regret that Brittney Griner was unable to speak with her wife because of a logistical error.”
The department reiterated it has no higher priority than the safety of Americans overseas and it remains in regular contact with families of hostages and wrongful detainees.
The couple has not spoken over the phone since Brittney Griner's detainment. Cherelle Griner told the Associated Press she was still hoping to speak with President Joe Biden, however she's become doubtful of the meeting.