By Simon Lewis
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The U.S. State Department has determined that Russia has wrongfully detained American basketball player Brittney Griner, a department spokesperson said in a statement.
Russia said it had detained Griner, a seven-time WNBA All-Star player, in February for possession of vape cartridges containing hash oil.
The Russian Embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Russia detained Griner amid soaring tensions between Washington and Moscow over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but U.S. officials had not previously determined that she was wrongfully detained.
“Brittney has been detained for 75 days and our expectation is that the White House do whatever is necessary to bring her home,” Griner’s agent, Lindsay Kagawa Colas, said in a statement.
The WNBA’s regular season is set to tip off on Friday. The league said Tuesday that Griner’s initials and jersey number 42 will be stenciled onto the courts of all 12 teams.
The United States has complained that Russia does not grant regular access to Americans detained there, although consular access to Griner was granted and a consular officer visited her on March 23, the spokesperson said.
“The U.S. government will continue to undertake efforts to provide appropriate support to Ms. Griner,” the statement said. Griner’s case was now being handled by Roger Carstens, special presidential envoy for hostage affairs, the spokesperson said.
Asked about Griner and the State Department’s determination, White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki declined to comment to reporters traveling with Biden on Air Force One and referred to U.S. policy in trying to secure detained Americans.
Russia returned another U.S. citizen, former U.S. Marine Trevor Reed, last week in a prisoner swap for a Russian pilot convicted of drug smuggling.
Another former marine, Paul Whelan, remains detained in Russia after he was sentenced to 16 years in prison on espionage charges in June 2020.
(Reporting by Simon Lewis, additional reporting by Susan Heavey and Amy Tennery; Editing by Howard Goller and Cynthia Osterman)