Brittney Griner in Russia: State Department demands to speak with detained WNBA star

Brittney Griner plays for the U.S. in the Aug. 8, 2021, gold medal game of the Summer Olympics in Tokyo. (Charlie Neibergall/AP)

The federal government is ramping up its efforts to get Brittney Griner out of Russian prison.

The State Department demanded that Russia allow U.S. officials to speak with the detained WNBA star on Saturday. The request was not granted.

“We are closely engaged on this case and in frequent contact with Brittney Griner’s legal team,” the feds said in a statement. “We insist the Russian government provide consular access to all U.S. citizen detainees in Russia, including those in pre-trial detention, as Brittney Griner is.”

Griner, 31, was arrested Feb. 17 at a Moscow airport after the Russians said she was carrying hashish oil. News of her arrest became public in early March. Vladimir Putin ordered the Russian invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24.

A Russian court ruled Thursday that Griner must remain behind bars until May 19. The WNBA season is scheduled to start May 6. Griner plays for the league’s Phoenix Mercury.

Russia’s prison-monitoring group said Griner was being treated “fine” during her pre-trial detention. Griner’s legal team has not publicly spoken about any mistreatment.

Griner’s representatives have attempted to prevent her from becoming a valuable political pawn amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“Everyone’s getting the strategy of say less and push more privately behind the scenes,” WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert said. “It’s the strategy you get from the State Department and administration. It’s our No. 1 priority in talking with her agent and strategists.”

Many WNBA stars play overseas during the U.S. league’s offseason because foreign leagues pay better. Griner was the last WNBA player left in Russia before Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine.

Two American men, Trevor Reed and Paul Whelan, are also detained in Russia.