Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov has refuted the suggestion that the arrest and detainment of WNBA star Brittney Griner in Russia amounts to political imprisonment.
In an exclusive interview with NBC News that aired on Monday, Peskov claimed Griner is only being held captive for breaking the law.
And he equated her predicament with, ‘hundreds and hundreds of Russian citizens that were sentenced for carrying hashish.’
‘Why should we make an exemption for a foreign citizen?’ Peskov argued.
Griner, 31, was detained at a Moscow airport on February 17 after authorities there said a search of her bag revealed vape cartridges containing cannabis oil.
NBC News’ Keir Simmons observed that the US government is essentially treating Griner’s detention like a hostage situation, but Peskov dodged.
‘She violated Russian law, and now she’s being prosecuted,’ Peskov told NBC. ‘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.’
The top Kremlin spokesman added that he strongly disagreed with the State Department’s reclassification in May of Griner’s arrest as ‘wrongfully detained.’
During the interview, Peskov also said that Alexander Drueke and Andy Huynh, two Americans captured in Ukraine while fighting against the Kremlin invasion, had ‘endangered’ Russian soldiers and should be ‘held accountable for those crimes.’
When pressed on what crimes the Americans had committed, Peskov admitted their specific offenses were not yet known but claimed that they would not be covered by the Geneva conventions on prisoners of war because they were not part of the Ukrainian Army.
Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov has refuted the US State Department’s classification of WNBA star Brittney Griner’s arrest as political imprisonment.
Griner, 31, was detained at a Russian airport on February 17 after authorities there said a search of her bag revealed vape cartridges containing cannabis oil
The WNBA star (pictured at the Tokyo Olympics) had traveled to join the Russian Premier League during the WNBA offseason
When asked to comment on the potential ‘terrible message’ sent by Griner’s imprisonment after she traveled to join the Russian Premier League during the WNBA offseason, Peskov disregarded the criticism.
‘It is also a terrible message to bring some forbidden essences and materials to this country,’ he said.
A phone call between Griner and her wife, Cherelle Griner, was rescheduled after an earlier attempt to connect on the couple’s anniversary failed because of an ‘unfortunate mistake,’ Biden administration officials said Tuesday.
Griner was to have spoken with her wife on Saturday, the couple’s fourth anniversary, for the first time since her arrest in Russia in mid-February.
State Department spokesman Ned Price said the call could not be completed because of a ‘logistical error’ that officials have worked quickly to fix so that a new call can take place.
The call was to have been routed through the American embassy in Russia, which was to have patched the conversation through.
Cherelle Griner said on Monday that she learned that her wife had tried 11 times to call her through the embassy by dialing a number that she had been given, but that no one picked up because that particular desk was unstaffed on Saturday.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters that the State Department was working to arrange a new call but did not say when that would be.
Griner leaves a courtroom after a hearing, in Khimki just outside Moscow, Russia, Friday, May 13, 2022
A phone call between Griner and her wife (pictured together), Cherelle Griner, was rescheduled after an earlier attempt to connect on the couple’s anniversary failed because of an ‘unfortunate mistake,’ Biden administration officials said Tuesday
Griner won Olympic gold medals with the US national teams in 2016 and 2021 and is a seven-time All-Star who also plays for the Phoenix Mercury in the WNBA but was drawn to the Russian league for the higher salaries.
The US State Department said the 31-year-old has been ‘wrongfully detained’ since Russian officials accused her of drug smuggling.
The WNBA has acknowledged Griner’s absence this season in a number of ways, including social media posts from many players and the league placing a decal with her initials and number on the home floor of all 12 of that league’s teams.
In early May, Griner’s case was handed off to the US Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs (SPEHA), which negotiates the release of hostages and other Americans deemed wrongfully detained.
The allegations against Griner have not been proven in court, and several public officials have accused the Russian government of bringing false charges against Griner and other imprisoned Americans.
The Olympian pleaded not guilty to the charges in a Moscow court.
After repeated requests, a State Department official in Moscow was granted consular access to Griner last month and the basketball player, who was the first draft pick for the WNBA, was in ‘good condition.’
‘We were able to check on her condition, we will continue to work very closely with her legal team, with her broader network, to see to it that she is treated fairly,’ a representative said at the time.
‘Our official found Brittney Griner to be in good condition and we will continue to do everything we can to see to it that she is treated fairly throughout this ordeal.’
Her only issue was that the prison beds in the jail were reportedly too short for her 6-foot-9 frame.