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What we know (and don’t know) about the arrest of US Olympic champion Brittney Griner in Russia

<i>Gregory Shamus/Getty Images</i><br/>The Russian Federal Customs Service detained WNBA star Brittney Griner at Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport after being found with hash oil. Griner is shown here at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Saitama Super Arena on July 27
Getty Images
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
The Russian Federal Customs Service detained WNBA star Brittney Griner at Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport after being found with hash oil. Griner is shown here at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Saitama Super Arena on July 27

By Holly Yan, CNN

A month after US basketball star Brittney Griner was arrested in Russia, it’s still not clear exactly where she’s being held.

But a Moscow court has ordered the 31-year-old to stay in custody until at least May 19, the Russian state news agency TASS reported March 17.

“The court granted the request of the investigation and extended the period of detention of the US citizen Griner until May 19,” the court said, according to TASS.

Griner is a championship-winning player with the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury who has spent her past several offseasons playing for the Russian team UMMC Ekaterinburg.

But last month, Russian authorities accused Griner of smuggling significant amounts of a narcotic substance after flying from New York to a Moscow airport.

Now, the mystery surrounding her detainment in a country she’s worked in for years has come to symbolize the growing tensions between the US and Russia during Russia’s continued invasion of Ukraine.

Here’s what we know (and don’t) about what happened to the two-time Olympic champion:

Why was Griner detained?

The Russian Federal Customs Service said an American was detained at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport after being found with hash oil.

“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,” a statement from the customs service said.

“The customs inspection of the hand luggage being carried by 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 Russian statement did not identify Griner by name, but said the detainee is an American professional basketball player and two-time US Olympian.

The customs agency said the US citizen was placed in pretrial detention. It said a criminal case was underway for smuggling significant amounts of narcotic substances — an offense carries a potential punishment of five to 10 years in prison.

Griner’s wife, Cherelle Griner, has publicly called for the release of her wife. USA Basketball, the Women’s National Basketball Association, the Phoenix Mercury and the WNBA players’ union have all publicly shared their concerns for Griner.

When was Griner arrested?

The Russian customs agency said in a statement a US citizen was detained “in February of 2022,” after flying to Moscow from New York, but did not say what day.

US Rep. Colin Allred, whose office has been in touch with the US State Department, said Griner was arrested in Russia on February 17.

A State Department spokesperson said the department is “aware of and closely engaged on this case.”

Where is Griner now?

As of March 17, Griner’s exact whereabouts were not clear.

Ekaterina Kalugina, a representative of Moscow’s Public Monitoring Commission — which observes the treatment of prisoners — visited Griner at her pre-trial detention center, TASS reported.

A court advocate said Griner should be kept under house arrest because their jail beds are a foot too short for Griner, who is 6 feet 9 inches tall, according to the Russian news service RIA Novosti.

Can Griner communicate with anyone in the US?

Allred said Griner has been in contact with her Russian lawyer, who is in touch with her agent and her family in the US. But Griner’s consular service has been blocked, which is “extremely concerning,” Allred said.

TASS quoted Kalugina as saying the US consul had not yet visited Griner, despite Russian authorities’ willingness to “create all conditions” for their visit.

CNN has reached out to Russian officials and the US Embassy in Moscow for comment on Griner’s consular access but has not heard back.

Although a State Department official told CNN the US has been denied consular access to Griner, a source close to the situation told CNN Griner’s Russian legal team has seen her several times a week throughout her detention, and she is well.

The source added that the Russian investigation is ongoing, and a trial date has not been set.

Her high school basketball coach, Debbie Jackson, said she worries Griner’s case will be used for political purposes.

“My biggest fear is that … she will become a political pawn,” Jackson told CNN.

What was Griner doing in Russia?

“Griner was in Russia for work: playing for UMMC Ekaterinburg, where in 2021 she helped the team win its fifth EuroLeague Women championship,” wrote Tamryn Spruill, a journalist who covers women’s basketball.

Spruill started the “Secure Brittney Griner’s Swift and Safe Return to the U.S.” petition on

“Like many athletes competing in the WNBA, Griner plays abroad during the WNBA offseason because her salary is exponentially higher in other countries,” Spruill wrote on the petition’s page.

“For WNBA players, that means playing abroad, while NBA rookies who haven’t played a professional game yet are handed salaries many-times higher than what title-winning, All-Star designated WNBA veterans could ever hope for,” Spruill said.

“These realities are not the fault of the players. They simply want to be paid their worth like their male counterparts, and they do not deserve to be entangled in geopolitical turmoil for doing so.”

Are there any other WNBA players in Russia?

In early March, the WNBA confirmed to CNN that no other players were in Russia nor Ukraine.

What are the odds of getting Griner out of Russia?

A member of the US House Armed Services Committee said “it’s going to be very difficult” to get Griner out of Russia.

“Our diplomatic relationships with Russia are nonexistent at the moment,” Democratic Rep. John Garamendi of California told CNN on March 7.

“Perhaps during the various negotiations that may take place, she might be able to be one of the solutions. I don’t know.”

He also noted “Russia has some very, very strict LGBT rules and laws” — though it’s not clear whether those rules and laws might impact Griner’s case.

Russia has passed LGBTQ-related legislation and outlawed the “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations around minors.”

But the Biden administration is working on trying to get Griner out of Russia, members of the Congressional Black Caucus said after meeting with President Joe Biden on March 7.

“The best news we got today was that they know about it and that she’s on the agenda,” Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, who represents Griner’s hometown of Houston, Texas, told reporters.

Noting a potential 10-year sentence for Griner, Jackson Lee added: “We know about Britney Griner, and we know that we have to move on her situation.”

In an Instagram post, Griner’s wife described the agony of waiting.

“People say ‘stay busy.’ Yet, there’s not a task in this world that could keep any of us from worrying about you. My heart, our hearts, are all skipping beats everyday that goes by.” Cherelle Griner posted on Instagram on Monday.

“There are no words to express this pain. I’m hurting, we’re hurting.”

™ & © 2022 Cable News Network, Inc., a WarnerMedia Company. All rights reserved.

CNN’s Lucy Kafanov, Homero De la Fuente, Richard Greene, Wayne Sterling, Rosa Flores, Allie Malloy, Ben Church, Elizabeth Joseph and Valery Yegorov contributed to this report.

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