A spokesperson for Russian leader Vladimir Putin said WNBA star Brittney Griner’s detention was not about “being a hostage,” seemingly in response to the State Department’s position that she is being wrongfully detained in Russia.
“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,” Dmitry Peskov told NBC News senior international correspondent Keir Simmons in an exclusive interview.
Peskov said he could not speak about the decision of Russian law enforcement when he was asked why Griner had not been directed back home or refused entry. He said Griner’s arrest was no different from anyone carrying cannabis oils in the country.
Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medalist and star of the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury was detained in Russia on February 17 for alleged possession of vape cartridges containing cannabis oils when she entered Moscow where she has been playing during the US off-season for the past seven years.
In early May, the State Department said that Griner was being “wrongfully detained.”
In mid-June, a Moscow court extended Griner’s detention until July 2. It was the third time her detention has been extended.
In related news, this week a Russian court sentenced former U.S. diplomat Marc Fogel to 14 years in prison for “large-scale” cannabis smuggling. Fogel had previously worked at the U.S. embassy in Moscow but was employed as an English teacher at the Anglo-American School in Moscow at the time of his arrest in August 2021.
In addition to Griner, several Americans are detained in Russian prisons. In April, the U.S. exchanged former U.S. Marine Trevor Reed, sentenced by a Russian court to nine years in prison for violence, for a Russian pilot who had been in a U.S. jail since 2010.