Brittney Griner Speaks to Reporters for First Time Since Release From Russia

PHOENIX — Brittney Griner, the W.N.B.A. star who became the center of a geopolitical showdown between the United States and Russia last year, is expected to speak with reporters on Thursday for the first time since her release in December in a prisoner exchange.

Ms. Griner, 32, planned to speak with reporters as her team, the Phoenix Mercury, prepares for the start of its season on May 19, and as the United States and Russia clash over the detainment of another American, the Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, who is accused of espionage.

Mercury officials said that Ms. Griner would not discuss her time in Russia at the news conference. She has called for the release of Mr. Gershkovich and others classified as wrongful detainees by the U.S. government.

She was detained after customs officials at an airport near Moscow found a small amount of a marijuana concentrate in vape cartridges in her luggage in February 2022. In May, the U.S. State Department said she had been wrongfully detained. She and Mr. Gershkovich have become the latest in a line of American citizens detained by Moscow under what U.S. officials have described as dubious accusations.

A Russian court convicted her of drug smuggling, and in August, Ms. Griner was sentenced to nine years in a penal colony. She was freed as part of a prisoner exchange in December; Viktor Bout, an arms dealer nicknamed the Merchant of Death, was sent back to Russia. He had been convicted in 2011 on charges that included conspiring to kill American citizens. Ms. Griner and Mr. Bout crossed paths on a tarmac in the United Arab Emirates, the site of the exchange.

Mr. Gershkovich, 31, was detained by Russian security services in late March and charged with espionage in mid-April, an accusation that his employer and U.S. officials strongly deny. While Mr. Gershkovich has been able to meet with Russian lawyers, the State Department had repeatedly called for the Russian authorities to grant consular access.

He is being held at Lefortovo Prison in Moscow, a facility where inmates are held in isolation with rare visits from lawyers. Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, this week suggested that there was the possibility of a prisoner swap including Mr. Gershkovich, similar to the trade of Ms. Griner for Mr. Bout.

In a news conference at the United Nations, Mr. Lavrov said that Mr. Gershkovich and another American prisoner being held in Russia, Paul Whelan, had been caught “when they were committing a crime, receiving material” containing state secrets.

Ms. Griner said this month that she planned to write a memoir about her detainment in Russia that she hoped would raise awareness about people who have been wrongfully detained. The book, scheduled to be released next year, would describe “the terrifying aspects of day-to-day life in a women’s penal colony,” according to a statement from Alfred A. Knopf, the publisher.

She quickly signaled after she returned to the United States that she planned to return to the W.N.B.A., and she signed a one-year contract with the Mercury to get back on the court. She last played in the league in 2021 and had produced one of the best campaigns of her career, averaging 20.5 points and 9.5 rebounds per game and reaching the W.N.B.A. finals, where her team lost to the Chicago Sky.

Kris Rhim reported from Phoenix and Alan Yuhas reported from New York.

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