Putin spokesman says Griner not hostage, gives no indication of release

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s top spokesman gave no indication Monday that WNBA star Brittney Griner will soon be released by Russian authorities who say they found hash oil in her luggage.

In an exclusive interview with NBC News’ Keir Simmons, spokesman Dmitry Peskov disputed the State Department’s position that Griner is a Russian hostage.

Griner, he said, was no different from “hundreds and hundreds of Russian citizens who have been convicted for transporting hashish.”

“Why should we make an exemption for a foreign citizen?” he added.

Griner, 31, was arrested in February after landing in Moscow; Authorities said a search of his bag revealed vape cartridges containing hashish oil, a derivative of cannabis. The offense could carry a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison in Russia.

Peskov was interviewed in Moscow, where the government cracks down on journalists and limits what journalists can say on pain of imprisonment.

In May, the State Department reclassified Griner as having been “wrongfully detained” and transferred oversight of her case to the State Department’s presidential envoy for hostage affairs.

“She violated Russian law, and now she is being prosecuted,” Peskov said. “It’s not about being a hostage. There are many American citizens here. They enjoy their freedoms…but you must obey the laws.

Asked why Russia didn’t refuse Griner entry or simply send her home, Peskov said he couldn’t comment on the decision by Russian law enforcement.

Griner’s legal team did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Monday.

Griner was in Russia to play in the country’s professional league during the WNBA’s offseason, and his detention was extended three times. The latest extension leaves her behind bars until at least July 2, according to Russian news agency Tass.

His teammates, family and fans have been pushing for his release amid concerns that Phoenix Mercury star center Griner could be used for leverage in Russia’s showdown with the United States.

Griner’s agent Lindsay Kagawa Colas said this month that “it remains clear that BG is being used as a political pawn,” and she urged President Joe Biden to do whatever it takes to bring her back. At her place.

Griner, a 6-foot-9 Houston native, won two Olympic gold medals, a WNBA championship with the Mercury and a national title at Baylor University. She has been ranked among the top 25 players in the WNBA since its founding in 1996.

Tass reported last month that Griner could be traded for convicted arms dealer Viktor Bout.

NBC News was unable to confirm the report, and Peskov said he had no information as to whether any potential trades were underway. He called Bout, who is serving a 25-year prison sentence in the United States, a “true hostage” held in the American prison for more than a decade.

In April, Russia freed former U.S. Marine Trevor Reed in a prisoner swap in which President Joe Biden commuted the sentence of Konstantin Yaroshenko, a convicted Russian drug trafficker serving time in Connecticut.

Meanwhile, Peskov seemed to agree with NATO’s conclusion that the conflict in Ukraine could become protracted.

“If you talk about the issue of security, hemispheric security and global security, yes, it will be a long-lasting crisis,” he said. “Russia will insist…on ensuring its security. Russia will insist, and we will never trust the West again.

Laura Saravia and Natacha Lebedeva contributed.

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Post expires at 3:38pm on Saturday July 2nd, 2022