Timeline: The 294 days from Brittney Griner’s imprisonment to her release
Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner spent 294 days behind bars after she was detained — the United States labeled it wrongful — by Russian authorities.
She is headed home Thursday after the U.S. completed a prisoner swap, sending arms dealer Viktor Bout to Russia.
Here are the key moments from Feb. 17, 2022, through Dec. 8, 2022, in what became a sensitive negotiation for the United States pushed by a public call for action led by the WNBA.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
This was the date when Griner had been detained after vape cartridges were found in her luggage in an airport in Moscow.
But that didn’t become public until the New York Times published a story on March 5. The Mercury, among other entities, issued a statement for the first time that day.
Three days after Griner’s situation became public, Russian state television released a photo of her, supposedly taken after she was arrested on drug charges in February.
Griner’s detainment in Russia was extended to at least May 19.
Ekaterina Kalugina told The Associated Press that she visited Griner at the pretrial detention facility outside of Moscow where she’s being held and spoke to her with the help of a cellmate who speaks Russian and English and served as an interpreter. Kalugina said Griner’s “physical condition is fine, she’s holding up fine.”
The labeling signaled that the United States would more aggressively work to secure her release even as the legal case against her played out.
Phoenix was without Griner as she neared the three-month mark of her detention in Russia with no timetable for her release.
Griner’s lawyer said her pre-trial detention had been extended by one month with the first extension to May 19 about to expire.
The Mercury met with the State Department of the United States on the 116th day of Griner’s detention in Russia and through statements and a video of star Diana Taurasi expressed positivity after the government asked them to continue amplifying a push to bring Griner home.
Initially, the United States advised the WNBA and players that making public calls for Griner’s release could negatively impact the goal of freeing the center.
A court for the third time extended the pre-trial detention of Griner through at least July 2.
A hand-written letter by Griner to President Joe Biden asked for his help.
Cherelle Griner was told by the president that he was “working to secure Brittney’s release as soon as possible, as well as the release of Paul Whelan and other U.S. nationals who are wrongfully detained or held hostage in Russia and around the world,” according to a White House statement.
Biden also read a portion of a letter he planned to send to Griner.
Brittney Griner was everywhere before, during and after the WNBA All-Star Game.
A’ja Wilson, Breanna Stewart and the rest of the WNBA All-Stars wore Griner’s name and her No. 42 on the back of their jerseys for the second half of Team Wilson’s 134-112 victory over Team Stewart. It was another moment in the league’s continued push for Griner’s release from her detention in Russia.
Arizona Democratic U.S. Sens. Mark Kelly and Kyrsten Sinema released a joint statement calling for the immediate release of Griner.
The two senators introduced a bipartisan resolution that “calls on the Government of the Russian Federation to immediately release Griner and urges the United States to continuously press for Griner’s release in all interactions with the Government of the Russian Federation.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that he was open to a call with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken to discuss a possible prisoner swap.
Blinken had said that Washington had offered Russia a deal that would bring home Griner and another jailed American, Whelan. A person familiar with the matter said the U.S. government proposed trading convicted Russian arms dealer Bout for Whelan and Griner.
The nine-year prison sentence given marked another important point in her detainment that had stretched into its seventh month. It was not surprising as Russian prosecutors were seeking a maximum sentence of nearly 10 years for Griner.
Griner turned 32 years old on her 243rd day in custody, and calls for her release peaked on social media.
The Moscow region court ruled to uphold the sentence. In the ruling, the court stated that the time Griner will have to serve will be recalculated with her time in pre-trial detention taken into account. One day in pre-trial detention will be counted as 1.5 days in prison, so the basketball star will have to serve around eight years in prison.
State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a tweet that the American representatives “saw firsthand her tenacity and perseverance despite her present circumstances.”
Griner was relocated to a penal colony in Mordovia, about 350 kilometers (210 miles) east of Moscow.
The U.S. State Department said Russia still had not seriously engaged in negotiations despite reports that Russia had said there was new activity in talks to bring Bout back to Russia.