Brittney Griner’s wife was supposed to talk to her, but the embassy didn’t answer


WNBA superstar Brittney Griner has been wrongfully detained in Russia for about four months at this point. Her detention has been extended three times, with the most recent extension being to next week, July 2. The US has had limited access to her and the US government has officially classified her as a wrongfully detained person. It is unclear what’s being done to ensure her safe return, but it is thought by many experts that Russia is angling for a prisoner exchange.

However, the most recent fustercluck involving Brittney’s case is not Russia’s fault. America can take full responsibility for this one. Brittany’s wife of four years, Cherelle, was scheduled to speak to her for their anniversary. But the American embassy had no one there to connect the call.

Since being detained by Russian authorities in February, seven-time WNBA All-Star Brittney Griner has been unable to speak to her wife, Cherelle Griner.

According to the Associated Press, the Russian government approved a call last Saturday so the couple could speak on their fourth wedding anniversary. But Cherelle waited by the phone for hours, and the call never came through.

In an interview with the outlet, Cherelle claims Brittney’s lawyers said her wife called a number given to her at the U.S. embassy in Moscow nearly a dozen times over “several hours.”

The calls — which the couple believed would connect Brittney to Cherelle in Arizona — were never answered because the desk at the embassy where the phone rang was allegedly unstaffed on Saturday.

“I find it unacceptable, and I have zero trust in our government right now,” Cherelle told AP. “If I can’t trust you to catch a Saturday call outside of business hours, how can I trust you to actually be negotiating on my wife’s behalf to come home? Because that’s a much bigger ask than to catch a Saturday call.”

Cherelle told the outlet that the incident left her “not well.”

Representatives for Griner and the U.S. State Department did not immediately return PEOPLE’s request for comment on Tuesday.

Griner’s agent, Lindsay Kagawa Colas, said, “my heart breaks into pieces every time I think of it,” in a post on Twitter.

“It’s nothing compared to the reality [Brittney] and her family are enduring,” she added.

In a statement to AP, a State Department representative said, “We deeply regret that Brittney Griner was unable to speak with her wife because of a logistical error.”

Cherelle told AP a U.S. government representative has since apologized to her. The number Brittney was given typically processes calls from prisoners on Mondays through Fridays but not weekends, which is why no one was there to transfer the call, she added.

“But mind you,” Cherelle said in the interview with the outlet, “this phone call had been scheduled for almost two weeks — with a weekend date.”

[From People]

To recap: Russia approved a scheduled call for the couple, Brittney repeatedly called the US embassy in Moscow so they could connect her to her wife, and no one picked up because no one works at the US embassy on weekends. The call was scheduled two weeks in advance. WTF. What a complete failure. Cherelle hasn’t seen her wife in four months because she is in Russian detention; the US government has failed to bring Brittney home and they can’t even handle a call scheduled two weeks in advance because it’s on a weekend. Could they not afford the overtime or does no one care? I’d say they deserve a big apology, but they deserve much, much more than that and what they’re currently getting from the US government. What Cherelle says — if she can’t trust the government to handle a scheduled call, how can she trust them to negotiate Brittney’s safe release — is very sad and very true.

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36 Responses to “Brittney Griner’s wife was supposed to talk to her, but the embassy didn’t answer”

  1. BaronSamedi says:

    I feel for the person who was supposed to come into work on that Saturday. Incompetence all around it seems though.

    I hope Brittney gets to go home soon. There is always one detail of this case I find…interesting though. As far as I have read she got arrested at the airport for having a vape pen for weed with her. And that’s a specific detail to release. If it was just drugs they would say drugs or weed, but it’s the pen.

    And that is too specific to not ring true to me. Because that’s a very US thing. In Europe and I believe in Russia you smoke weed by mixing it with tobacco and rolling a joint. The pen detail always made me think there was some legitimacy to her arrest. Especially because an athlete would not smoke tobacco but possible use a vape pen.

    I still wouldn’t wish being in prison in Russia on my worst enemy, I just feel like maybe she did actually break the law.

    • Smart&Messy says:

      IIRC it was weed oil cartridges that are used with the pen they said to have found in her luggage. I also have the feeling that she did actually break the law, and as soon as they realized they have someone marginally famous in their custody, the Russians decided to use her for something. So her incarceration was probably justified up to a point, and now it’s a shitshow because she is not charged or being tried for it.

    • StephB says:

      The entire tone of this post. Feeling bad for the Embassy staff over the family that lost an opportunity to connect over the phone. Not shocked at all by the “maybe she broke the law” ending.

      • C says:

        This.

      • Beff says:

        Big but not all white people/men/women energy.

      • BlinkB says:

        Do embassies open on Saturdays??

      • C says:

        Probably not for routine things like document processing and assisting ill travelers. But probably for things like high-security communication planned in advance between a person who is essentially a notable hostage and their family. Cherelle stated it was planned two weeks in advance.

      • Valar Dohaeris says:

        This isn’t about the vape pen or weed or any of it. If it was, they would have charged her by now. I’m confused by this comment. I hesitate to impute any ill motive, but I am confused.

    • MeganC says:

      She allegedly had vape cartridges. I don’t trust a single word that comes from Putin’s Russia. She is a hostage.

      • NYC212 says:

        I actually totally believe the story but with a twist. I believe that she had the vape cartridges. I also believe that she’s been traveling to and from Russia for the seven (?) years she has been playing there. It’s never been a problem because the cops and airport staff knew to just wave her on through because the president of that team is one Andrei Kozitsyn. He is a Russian billionaire oligarch who is the CEO of one of Russia’s largest metallurgy companies, in addition to having large ownership stakes in banks, media, and agricultural businesses. People associated with him don’t get stopped at the airport for anything. This all changed, however, when Russia knew it was going to invade Ukraine. Due process in Russia is not what due process looks like here. Her arrest was lawful by Russian standards but, make no mistake, she isn’t there because she broke the law, she’s there because she’s being used as a bargaining chip.

        Russia had been amassing tens of thousands of troops on Ukrainian borders for months. Everyone knew they were going to invade Ukraine, especially Russia. They likely took her in for a crime they know she didn’t expect to get hauled in for in the hopes that she would be good for leverage. The only problem is that Russia did not foresee how harsh the reaction to the invasion would be.

        Sadly, I don’t see a situation in which the US can or would do anything to get her out. When other governments take our citizens, we rarely react outside of expressing outrage and demanding their release because it would encourage people to do it more. Sometimes things are worked out via back channels but the current situation with Russia makes that impossible. The US is the lead actor in inflicting well deserved punishment on Russia. The US will not engage in any sort of transaction with Russia for her or even Joe Biden’s wife. Doing so would lend Putin an air of legitimacy and be seen as a capitulation. People are angry at Macron for even talking to Putin on the phone.

        That said, there is an interesting twist in all of this which could indicate the US has or is doing something to get her released. Kozitsyn is one of the 45 Russian oligarchs not on the sanctions list. Some of them are not on the list for obvious strategic purposes but there is no obvious reason why he isn’t on that list. Perhaps the US is dangling the prospect of not including him on the list if he can make moves to get her released. He could be placed on that list with a stroke of a pen so it’s not a big deal for us. Sanctioning the company of which he is CEO would be a significant hit to Russia as its metallurgical exports are one of its biggest assets. Let us hope that this flex is being used.

    • LooseSeal says:

      You feel bad for…*checks notes*…the embassy worker? Not the woman who hasn’t spoken to her wife for 4 months? Or the woman who’s been locked up with no due process, which you also find a way to justify? Is it the blackness or the gayness that keeps you from feeling compassion for the actual victims here?

      • LalaMN says:

        @Looseseal: THANK YOU!! B/c that is the truth: the focus of our concern and compassion should be the two individuals at the heart of this story, not some unnamed worker. Jesus!

      • goofpuff says:

        Agreed. Brittany and her wife are the ones who suffered!

    • Lara (the other) says:

      She might have broken the law by carrying an illegal substance, but befor the Ukraine war she would have been send back to the US and maybe would be banned from entering Russia for a few years.
      She is a hostage and, being a gay black woman an especcially interessting for Putins racist and homophobic agenda.

  2. Kiera says:

    Something feels so off about this. So they typically do the calls weekdays and not weekends. Who approved the call for the weekend then if it isn’t standard procedure. And further why did Russia all of a sudden agree to a call they have been saying no to for months.

    I know I sound crazy but I have a suspicion this f up was orchestrated by Russia in an effort to bring more publicity to the case to better use her as a hostage. That or it’s typical beurocrat nonsense.

    It just feels like some piece of information like why they agreed to a call outside of standard hours for those calls is missing.

    • EnormousCoat says:

      Absolutely. We have no reason to believe Russia is the good actor here (or ever) and America has been working diligently on this. Yes, bureaucratic incompetence exists but Secretary Blinken is involved directly in this, so no, the details of this story don’t make sense. What makes sense is that Russia is lying or otherwise being deceitful – I mean, they are illegally detaining her ffs.

      • Smart&Messy says:

        If any of the lawyer CBers can find the time, can you please explain to me if she really is unlawfully detained? If the weed cartridges they allegedly found on her are illegal in Russia, what would have been the due process?

      • sunny says:

        This is such a horrible situation and I agree with your take completely. Russia has shown that it is not acting in good faith in its diplomatic relations so everything they saw here she be weighed with a certain amount of suspicion.

    • Eurydice says:

      I grew up in embassy circles – this kind of screw up is not unusual.

      • BlinkB says:

        I deal with embassies all the time for my clients. This sort of shizz is so common

      • Oona says:

        Me too, and yes it happens and especially in an understaffed situation which is often the case at embassies.

    • MeganC says:

      Non-emergency embassy workers were granted authorized leave that the start of the war in Ukraine. The embassy is short-staffed and dealing with a war. I’m not surprised this detail was overlooked, but it was extremely unfortunate for Cherelle and Brittney.

    • Bettyrose says:

      You don’t sound crazy at all. Nothing about this story makes sense. The Embassy knew how high profile this story would be and that a weekend call would mean scheduling staff coverage. No way was it a mere oversight.

  3. SknowMercy says:

    Does this woman not have a lawyer? Being the pawn of two superpowers locked in a cold war without knowing the rules of the game and having your queen locked away by one of those players is no time for foolishness. She needs a retired grand master.

    • Bettyrose says:

      I’m sure there are lawyers, publicists, and publishers salivating to work with her. But how does anyone contact her?

      Does the Embassy have a reliable way to connect with her when they are open?

      • C says:

        “I’m sure there are lawyers, publicists, and publishers salivating to work with her. ”

        I very much doubt that honestly. For reasons you can infer. This situation is horrible and terrifying.

      • BlinkB says:

        The one hope from this mess is that the press coverage will help strengthen Brittney’s legal team. I’m sure (and hopeful, naively hopeful), that lawyers are seeing this and wanting to help.

    • MeganC says:

      Her wife was on Joy Reid last night and confirmed she has a lawyer.

  4. Katja says:

    This does not suprise me. The US Embassy in Austria does not provide any “Consular services”, instead we are directed to call the Consulste in Germany, whereall you get is a recorded message offering an email address to write to with your query/issue. The welfare of US citizens abroad does not appear to be a mandate, let alone a priority.

  5. Ashley L. says:

    Lawyer here and I agree completely with NYC212’s comment.

    BG has been going in and out of Russia for years. She probably has had the same vape pen and cartridges in her luggage before but was never subject to search or any real scrutiny before.

    We can discuss the fact that she felt she needed to play for a Russian team during the WNBA off season because of the poor salary and opportunities for female professional basketball athletes especially in comparison to the NBA, but at the end of the day she was in a foreign country and allegedly violated their laws. The US stressed that any Americans in Russia needed to make their way out and be extremely careful in the weeks leading up to the invasion. Regardless of whether it’s right, if she did indeed have the cartridges, she put herself at risk. The fact that Russia is playing with her life and freedom is absolutely not acceptable, but it does not sound from all that has been reported that Russia made up the existence of the cartridges or planted them in her luggage.

    • Elizabeth says:

      This is Putin’s Russia. They’re not exactly known for fair play or justice — in fact, they’re known for being exceptionally repressive, violent, and totalitarian.

      Brittney is Black, female, and an out lesbian, so she is even more at risk from that kind of conservative backwards regime. I am unsure why you are giving Russia the benefit of the doubt in this situation as to whether they “made up” the charges.

      This is a terrible situation, and I feel so deeply sad for Cherelle and Brittney. Saying Brittney “put herself at risk” is disgusting victim-blaming. We have no idea if the charges are false. But either way, there is no way this wasn’t a political maneuver. Putin’s government thugs knew Brittney was a fairly famous person whose plight would draw media attention that they could manipulate. They just invaded Ukraine and are demolishing cities, murdering and raping their way along. You think they’d hesitate to frame one woman for drug possession?

  6. Lara (the other) says:

    She might have broken the law by carrying an illegal substance, but befor the Ukraine war she would have been send back to the US and maybe would be banned from entering Russia for a few years.
    She is a hostage and, being a gay black woman an especcially interessting for Putins racist and homophobic agenda.

  7. AmelieOriginal says:

    Embassies are generally closed on weekends are they not? They are government workers, they do not work on the weekends. Someone effed up scheduling that call on a Saturday and is probably getting fired.

  8. death by bacon says:

    I feel for this couple. Our government and embassy should be doing more.

  9. Teresa says:

    As someone who routinely deals with the US embassy in a foreign country, I can tell you with certainty that this is the least of what you can expect from them. I have a court case running in Saudi Arabia for more than 6 years with my assets frozen and a 10 year travel ban against me so that I can’t enter Saudi to see my child. I have complained to the US embassy in Riyadh for years that my minor US citizen child is being neglected and abused by his Saudi father. I recently found out that he is so thin he appears near starvation. I have contacted the state department and the US embassy Riyadh numerous times over the past month. They were supposed to do a welfare check, which they still have not done. They routinely don’t answer emails and won’t even provide their plan or action to me when it is my case. Most people do not realize that the US embassy will do very little if anything to protect their citizens abroad. It is only when it’s a public figure or a public case that they do anything at all. It requires media pressure. I have discovered this painful truth the hard way.

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