Dennis Rodman cancels trip to Russia to help Brittney Griner

Brittney Griner doesn’t seem to be on a break. The WNBA player has been jailed in Russia since February 17 after being stopped at Sheremetyevo International Airport in Khimki for having vape cartridges containing hash oil in her luggage, according to ABC News. Griner — who plays for the Phoenix Mercury WNBA team — competed abroad with Russian team UMMC Ekaterinburg during her team’s off-season.

The trial began on July 1, and after much deliberation, Griner decided to plead guilty to her drug charges in a Russian court. “I want to plead guilty to the charges against me,” the two-time U.S. Olympic basketball champion said (per NPR). “I had no intention of breaking Russian laws. I was packing in a hurry and the bullets accidentally ended up in my pockets.” Although she attempted to plead her case that there was an accident gone wrong, a judge sentenced Griner to nine years in prison after being charged with drug possession and -convicted of smuggling, ESPN reported. She was also fined 1 million rubles – about $16,700. “Russia is wrongly holding Brittney,” President Joe Biden said in a statement. “This is unacceptable and I call on Russia to release them immediately.”

While efforts to bring Griner back to America have since gone classified, a former NBA star with a strange history of diplomacy was willing to fly to Russia to lobby for her release.

The US government discouraged Dennis Rodman’s efforts to go to Russia

Dennis Rodman made national headlines after telling NBC News he was arranging a trip to Russia to help get Brittney Griner released. “I got permission to go to Russia to help this girl,” he told the outlet. “I’m trying to go this week.”

While the incentive was heartwarming, State Department spokesman Ned Price made it clear to ABC News that the former NBA champion “would not be traveling on behalf of the US government” and that it would actually get in the way of ongoing negotiations with Russia . “We believe that anything other than further negotiations through the established channel is likely to complicate and hamper these clearance efforts,” Price said. After a government backlash, Rodman canceled his trip to Russia and told ABC News he had no plans to go there now.

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While the former Chicago Bull sounds like an unusual spokesman alongside other teams, he’s actually no newcomer to foreign policy. According to Rolling Stone, Rodman has formed an odd friendship with Kim Jong-Un and has been spotted visiting North Korea on a number of occasions. “If you sit down and talk to him over lunch and then shoot with him, you’re probably going to be like, ‘Well, this guy is cool and he’s pretty nice,'” Rodman told Insider. Given their good relationship, Rodman was actually involved in the 2014 release of Kenneth Bae, a Korean-American evangelical leader imprisoned in North Korea.

A prisoner swap for Brittney Griner may be underway

In 2013, Dennis Rodman played a pivotal role in releasing Kenneth Bae, a Korean-American missionary, after questioning Kim Jong-Un Twitter to “do him a good service” and free Bae. According to the Washington Post, Bae was accused of trying to overthrow the North Korean government and sentenced to 15 years of hard labor. However, thanks to Rodman’s tirades and his alleged desire to “fill a gap with the Americans and North Korea,” Bae was released.

And while the former basketball player has proven he has some experience releasing prisoners abroad, that may not be enough compared to what the US government is already planning. According to CNN, a prisoner swap may be underway after the Biden administration offered to give up Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout in exchange for Griner. The exchange would also include Russia’s surrender of Paul Whelan, a former Navy and US citizen who has been imprisoned since June 2020.

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Foreign Minister Antony Blinken reportedly had a phone call with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, urging him to accept the deal. However, Lavrov made it clear that they would only be open to the idea as long as the US government keeps their dealings confidential, according to ABC News. “Americans often have trouble keeping agreements about quiet and professional work,” Lavrov said. Perhaps that’s why the US government urged Dennis Rodman not to get involved. Meanwhile, President Joe Biden remains “hopeful” of bringing Griner home. “We work hard,” he said at a press conference.