WNBA star Brittney Griner met with U.S. officials on Wednesday for the first time since being held in pretrial detention in Russia for over a month, according to the U.S. State Department.
“The consular officer who visited with Brittney Griner was able to verify that she is doing as well as can be expected under these very difficult circumstances,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters on Wednesday.
“We will continue to work very closely with her legal team, with her broader network, to see to it that she is treated fairly and that her rights are respected,” he added.
The two-time Olympic gold medalist was visiting Russia to play basketball offseason and was arrested last month at a Moscow area airport for allegedly having vape cartridges in her luggage containing hashish oil — an illegal substance in Russia.
She is facing drug charges with up to 10 years in prison, according to Russian media reports.
Griner’s visit with a consular official from the U.S. Embassy in Moscow comes after the State Department expressed concerns over Griner’s well-being after Russia extended her pre-trial detention to May 19.
U.S. Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan raised the issue of access to detained Americans when he was summoned on Monday by the Russian Foreign Ministry.
Griner, a Houston native, was reportedly detained on Feb. 17 — one week before Russia invaded Ukraine.
The invasion escalated tensions between the U.S. and Russia and amid a volatile diplomatic environment, concerns over Griner are growing, with some officials expressing fear that Griner and other Americans jailed in Russia could be used as leverage in the ongoing conflict.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced on Wednesday that the State Department has made a formal assessment that Russian forces have committed war crimes in Ukraine.The U.S. also imposed a wave of new sanctions on Russia, including personal sanctions on Putin and some of his close associates, but has continued to oppose a no-fly zone and the deployment of U.S. troops to fight Russia in Ukraine.
Meanwhile, the fate of American prisoners in Russia hangs in the balance.
Along with Griner, former Marines Trevor Reed and Paul Whelan have spent years in Russian custody now on charges that their families and American officials say were fabricated by Russia in order to seize them as bargaining chips. Reed’s health is dangerously deteriorating, according to his family, with fears that he may have contracted tuberculosis in the remote penal colony where he’s been held for months.
Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee, D-Texas, whose district includes parts of Houston, has called for the athlete’s release and told ABC’s “Nightline” in an interview last Thursday, that the conflict between the U.S. and Russia over the invasion of Ukraine should not affect Griner’s chances of being released.
“You know, there are international protocols that should be held in spite of conflicts,” the congresswoman said.
“This is a major conflict. This is a major act of violence. This is an invasion. Brittney Griner had nothing to do with that,” she added.
Price said on Thursday that “time will tell” whether Griner’s visit with U.S. officials is a “one-off visit” or whether Russia’s “posture is changing.”
“We want timely consistent access to American detainees in Russia, including those in pre-trial detention. That would call for additional visits to Brittney Griner and to other Americans who are detained in Russia,” he said.
Last week, Price expressed concerns that Russia had not yet “permitted” U.S. officials access to Griner.
“The Russians are obligated to permit, to allow this type of consular access under the Vienna Convention,” Price told ABC News Live at the time. “We’re going to continue to insist that they allow us access to Brittney Griner just as we be permitted access to all Americans who are detained in Russia.”
Griner is a seven-time WNBA All-Star, who has been playing for the Phoenix Mercury since 2013.
The Phoenix Mercury said in a statement on March 5 that the team is in contact with Griner’s family, representatives and the WNBA and are closely monitoring her case.
“We love and support Brittney and at this time our main concern is her safety, physical and mental health, and her safe return home,” the Phoenix Mercury said.
ABC News’ Libby Cathey, Kandis Mascall, Matthew Fuhrman, Miles Cohen and Tanya Stukalova contributed to this report.