Russia has arrested US basketball player Brittney Griner, triggering speculations about the possibility of her becoming a pawn in chess game between Moscow and the West. The Russians arrested Griner after the customs officials detected cannabis oil in her luggage at Sheremetyevo Airport near Moscow.
Griner is a two-time Olympic gold medalist and seven-time Women's National Basketball Association All-Star with the Phoenix Mercury basketball team.
She was earlier not identified as Griner as the Russian Federal Customs Service's statement did not mention her name, reported CNN.
Cannabis Oil in Hand Luggage
"As a US citizen was passing through the green channel at Sheremetyevo Airport upon arriving from New York, a working dog from the Sheremetyevo Customs canine department detected the possible presence of narcotic substances in the accompanying luggage," read the statement.
"The customs inspection of the hand luggage of the US citizen confirmed the presence of vapes with specifically smelling liquid, and an expert determined that the liquid was cannabis oil (hash oil), which is a narcotic substance," the customs service said in the statement.
The arrest comes as Russia's invasion of Ukraine is in its second week and despite a number of sanctions against Moscow, the West has not been able to end the war. A criminal case has been opened against Griner following her arrest.
US Aware of Griner's Arrest
Meanwhile, the US State Department has also confirmed her arrest. "We are aware of reports of a US citizen arrested in Moscow. Whenever a US citizen is arrested overseas, we stand ready to provide all appropriate consular services," said the Department.
Currently, Griner plays for the Russian team, UMMC Ekaterinburg and she has played with the team since 2015 during the WNBA offseason.
The National Basketball Players Association has also said that it is aware of Griner's situation in Russia and conveyed that the association's utmost priority is BG's safety and well-being. "We will continue to closely monitor and look forward to her return to the US."
However, experts say Russia could use Griner's arrest as a 'leverage' in the ongoing conflict. As per Russian laws, Griner faces up to 10 years in prison following her arrest on drug smuggling charges.
"If we want her out of jail, Russia is going to have some terms," former U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Russia and Ukraine, Evelyn Farkas, told Yahoo Sports. "It could be a prisoner swap. They also could use it as an implicit threat or blackmail to get us to do something or not do something. Either way, they find it useful."