Russia’s detention of WNBA star sparks fears Putin may use anthem-opposing player as bargaining chip

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(Video: Fox News)

There are increasing fears that Vladimir Putin intends to hold a women’s professional basketball star who was arrested after she arrived in Moscow last month as a hostage as tensions between Russia and the U.S. continue to intensify.

WNBA superstar Brittney Griner was seized by Russian authorities at Moscow’s airport for allegedly being in possession of an illegal substance in the form of hashish oil contained in a cartridge for a vape pen that was in her luggage, an offense that could result in a prison sentence of 5-10 years if she’s found guilty.

With Putin not budging despite a crushing onslaught of official sanctions along with actions by the “public-private partnership” to cripple Russia financially – most recently the move by both Visa and Mastercard to suspend all operations by deactivating their cards for Russians – some suspect that Griner could be used as a bargaining chip.

The two-time Olympic gold medalist who plays for the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury last made contact with the outside world on February 5 when she posted to Instagram, since then there has been silence from the 31-year-old seven-time All-Star.

A video released by the Russian Federal Customs Service appears to show briner at a security checkpoint at Sheremetyevo International Airport.

“Griner was in Russia playing for the women’s basketball team UMMC Ekaterinburg during the WNBA’s offseason. Playing overseas during the WNBA’s offseason is common among WNBA players who have the opportunity to earn lucrative contracts that oftentimes exceed what they earn in the United States,” according to Fox News.

Lindsay Kagawa Colas of the Wasserman Group who is Griner’s agent provided an update, “We are aware of the situation with Brittney Griner in Russia and are in close contact with her, her legal representation in Russia, her family, her teams, and the WNBA and NBA,” according to a statement to ESPN. “As this is an ongoing legal matter, we are not able to comment further on the specifics of her case but can confirm that as we work to get her home, her mental and physical health remain our primary concern.”

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) reacted to Griner’s detention, “We know that there were some issues dealing with vape cartridges and other items but let me be very clear,” she said on Saturday.  “Brittney Griner is a United States citizen, she was a guest in Russia…and I will be demanding her release.”

“I don’t want to disregard a sovereign nation but Putin has disregarded sovereign nations his entire service in this world,” Lee added. “Anyone that is killing and attacking and destroying Ukraine, a neighboring country that is not bothering them, has no right to hold Ms. Griner. Period.”

Griner is a native of Houston which includes Lee’s congressional district.

The Phoenix Mercury also issued a statement updating fans on Griner’s situation.

Some were unsympathetic to Griner’s plight, pointing out that she has opposed the national anthem before Mercury games and said that she would not be on the floor if the “Star-Spangled Banner” was played.

On Saturday, the U.S. State Department issued an updated travel advisory calling for U.S citizens to leave Russia immediately.


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