Dennis Rodman decides not to go to Russia on mission to rescue Brittney Griner

US State Department not keen on former NBA star’s plan

Abe Asher
Thursday 25 August 2022 06:07 BST
Brittney Griner's wife says she will not be quiet any more

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Louise Thomas

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Dennis Rodman will not be going to Russia to try to help free incarcerated WNBA star Brittney Griner.

Last Saturday, the former NBA star had told NBC News that he was going to Russia to free the incarcerated player.

“I got permission to go to Russia to help that girl,” Mr Rodman had said. “I’m trying to go this week.”

But on Monday, following a stern warning from an official at the US State Department, Mr Rodman confirmed to ABC News that he will not in fact be taking that trip.

“We believe that anything other than negotiating further through the established channel is likely to complicate and hinder those release efforts,” Ned Price told the television network during a press briefing on Monday, noting that Mr Rodman would not be traveling as a representative of the US government.

Mr Rodman, who won five NBA finals with the Detroit Pistans and Chicago Bulls over the course of a decorated playing career, is no stranger to controversy in the international arena. Mr Rodman has traveled on several occassions to North Korea and met with the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, whom he has said he considers a “friend for life”.

Mr Rodman first visited North Korea in 2014, and then went back in 2017. He was also present in Singapore for the summit between his longtime friend Donald Trump and Mr Kim in 2018, which resulted in the two leaders signing a joint statement committing themselves to establishing new relations between their two countries.

But it appears that, whatever his wishes, Mr Rodman will not be playing such a prominent part in US attempts to bring Ms Griner home.

The WNBA star and former Olympian has been incarcerated in Russia since February, just prior to the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, after vape cartridges containing cannabis oil were found in her luggage as she traveled in an airport outside of Moscow.

The State Department officially classified Ms Griner as wrongfully detained in May, and has been working to secure her release — most likely via a prisoner swap that would send arms dealer Viktor Bout back to Russia in exchange for Ms Griner and fellow American Paul Whelan.

In July, following an increasingly intense public campaign to draw attention to Ms Griner’s plight, president Joe Biden told Ms Griner’s wife Cherelle Griner they would explore “every avenue” to bring Ms Griner home.

Last month, Ms Griner, who said she did not intend to break Russian law and had left the cartridges in her luggage on accident, was found guilty of drug charges brought against her and sentenced to nine years in prison.

“I said last week that we had engaged in discussions with Russian counterparts on this,” Mr Price said. “Those discussions are ongoing. We’ve made very clear, as we have publicly, that we proposed a substantial proposal, we called it, for the release of Paul Whelan and Brittney Griner.”

Meanwhile, as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine stretches into its seventh month, the State Department is strongly advising Americans not to travel to Russia due, in part, to the threat of wrongful detention.

Mr Rodman would not have needed permission from the US government to travel to Moscow, but he would have needed a visa from the Russian government to enter the country.

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