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Brittney Griner’s Detention in Russia Is Cloaked in Silence


The detention of the W.N.B.A. star Brittney Griner in Russia on drug charges has left her supporters searching for a road map to a resolution in what could be an especially dangerous situation during the war in Ukraine.

An exact parallel is hard to come by, but a situation nearly five years ago, in which three U.C.L.A. basketball players were accused of crimes while in China, blended sports, international diplomacy and a desire for secrecy in a way that echoes Griner’s situation as efforts to bring her home continue quietly.

“It is an extremely sensitive situation,” said Representative Colin Allred, Democrat of Texas, who said he was working with the State Department to have Griner released. He added, “What we’re trying to do now, of course, is be helpful and not do anything that’ll place Brittney in any kind of danger or make her situation worse.”

Griner’s attorney in Russia contacted the U.S. Embassy shortly after she was detained on Feb. 17, Allred said, after Russian Federal Customs Service officials said they had found vape cartridges containing hashish oil in her luggage at an airport near Moscow. Allred said the Russian authorities have denied the State Department’s request that consular officials meet with Griner.

“It’s already a violation of international norms and the way these things are handled when they happen to Americans abroad,” Allred said.

Scott also said the remorse shown by the players was instrumental in their being allowed to return swiftly. “They were apologetic for it and expressed that,” he said. “There’s an element of saving face involved for local authorities to understand foreigners coming in respect local laws and the local culture.”

It is unclear whether Griner had drugs in her luggage, and American officials have repeatedly accused Russia of detaining U.S. citizens for specious reasons. But those close to Griner appear to be following one of the strategies employed by those surrounding Ball, Hill and Riley in 2017: creating as little public noise as possible.

“We felt that it would be counterproductive for there to be a lot of statements from us or from U.C.L.A. or from the families of the student athletes,” Scott said. “We felt that quiet diplomacy behind the scenes was the best course of action and so we were very careful not to be talking a lot about the situation in the media or otherwise.”

The incident for the U.C.L.A. players in China, like Griner’s situation, also had a political backdrop, as it occurred during former President Donald J. Trump’s visit to China for trade talks. He later took credit for securing the players’ speedy release, a claim Ball’s father, LaVar, has denied publicly.

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