As Blavity previously reported, WNBA All-Star player Brittney Griner is currently under detention in Russia. The New York Times reports that Griner, who plays for the Phoenix Mercury in the U.S. and the UMMC Ekaterinburg team in Russia, was detained at an airport on the outskirts of Moscow. The timing of Griner’s arrest, coming amid escalating tensions between the U.S. and Russia over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, has caused deep suspicion over the circumstances of the arrest and concern over Griner’s well-being. As details of the situation unfold, here are six key things to know about Griner’s detention.

1. The details of her arrest and detention remain unclear.

News of Griner’s arrest only became public Saturday when the Russian Federal Customs Service released news that it had detained an American basketball player at the Sheremetyevo Airport. The announcement came with a video of a masked individual being stopped and searched at the airport. Although the statement did not include the name of the detained player and the video did not clearly show the person’s face, the American was quickly identified as Griner.

It is unclear when her arrest happened. The official Russian statement only says that she was arrested in February, though multiple sources have claimed that she has been in detention for about three weeks. This estimate appears to be based on the lack of activity on Griner’s social media accounts; she appears to have last posted on Twitter on Feb. 4 and has not made a post on Instagram since Feb. 5. No information has been made public about where she is being held or her current condition.

2. Drug charges in Russia can lead to a variety of punishments.

According to The New York Times, Russian officials claim that Griner was arrested for carrying vape cartridges containing hashish oil, a derivative of the cannabis plant, in her luggage. Such products are legal in some U.S. states, such as Arizona, where Griner plays. However, AZ Central reports that these products are outlawed by both U.S. and Russian federal law, and violating Russian drug laws can lead to a wide range of consequences.

In recent years, at least two American women have been arrested on broadly similar drug charges in Russian airports. American student Audrey Lorber was detained for a month after being caught in a St. Petersburg airport with 19 grams of marijuana. Russia rejected her American medical marijuana prescription and eventually fined her the equivalent of $230. Israeli American Naama Issachar was initially sentenced to more than seven years in prison for drug trafficking after being caught with seven grams of marijuana at a Moscow airport in 2019; she was pardoned by Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2020 prior to a visit to Russia by then-Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. According to the Times’ report, Russian authorities are investigating Griner’s case as “large-scale transportation of drugs,” which could carry a prison sentence of up to 10 years.

3. Griner is one of several American basketball players who play in Russia or Ukraine.

Both Russia and Ukraine have become top destinations for American professional basketball players who play overseas. As Blavity previously reported, several American players were initially stuck in Ukraine at the beginning of the Russian invasion, including Adrienne Godbold and Maurice Creek.

Meanwhile, Griner’s moonlighting as a basketball player in Russia has highlighted issues of pay disparities between men and women in U.S. professional sports. Another New York Times article details that salaries in the WNBA range from approximately $60,000 to $228,000, a fraction of what NBA players make. By contrast, top women basketball players can make much more money in countries like Russia, where salaries can go as high as seven figures. Overall, dozens of WNBA players join teams in other countries during the offseason to supplement their incomes or increase their playing opportunities.

4. War in Ukraine, and U.S. and Russia tensions, make Griner’s situation risky.

Although it is unclear whether or not Griner’s arrest is related to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine or the tensions that this has caused with the U.S., the timing makes her detention extremely complicated. With the war continuing in Ukraine and the U.S. leading an international response of sanctions against Russia, The U.S. State Department has warned all American citizens to leave Russia “immediately,” citing “the potential for harassment against U.S. citizens by Russian government security officials” among reasons for Americans to leave.

Because of her celebrity status, Russia could use Griner to try to extract concessions from the United States, or she could be subjected to harsh punishment as payback for American sanctions. Evelyn Farkas, a former top official in the U.S. Department of Defense, warns that Griner may be used as a “high-profile hostage.” Farkas argues that Russia could demand a prisoner swap for her release or otherwise “blackmail’ the U.S. into some kind of policy concession as a condition for Griner’s release. Griner joins the ranks of other Americans currently being detained in Russia; Yahoo Sports reports that prior to Griner’s arrest, the U.S. had been engaged in long-standing negotiations to secure the release of former U.S. marines Trevor Reed and Paul Whelan, who were arrested and sentenced to long prison terms for separate incidents in Russia in 2020. These prisoners and any other Americans still in Russia are likely to have their situations exploited by Russia.

5. Griner’s identity could put her in additional danger.

In addition to her nationality and celebrity status, other aspects of Griner’s identity could put her in danger. “A Black queer woman has been held in Russia for almost a month,” activist and writer Raquel Willis posted on Twitter. “This is scary as hell.”

In recent years, the Russian government has cracked down on the LGBTQ community in the country. LGBTQ activists are routinely harassed in the country and individual activists are subjected to threats and violence. Russia’s anti-gay policies and activities are severe enough that members of the Ukrainian LGBTQ community fear that they may be targeted by invading Russian forces. Meanwhile, Russia’s Black citizens and residents have faced racism and discrimination in recent years, and the country has not experienced the equivalent of the Black Lives Matter movement.

6. High-profile American officials are working to secure Griner’s release.

U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro recently told MSNBC that he is “concerned that they’re holding her as a kind of political prisoner.” Fellow Texas Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, who represents Griner’s hometown of Houston, has said that she “will be demanding [Griner’s] release” from Russian custody. The case has even reached the attention of U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken. While stating that he could not speak in too much detail on her case, Blinken assured reporters that “we have an embassy team that’s working on the cases of other Americans who are detained in Russia,” adding that “we’re doing everything we can to see to it that their rights are upheld and respected.”

Given the ongoing war in Ukraine and the economic standoff between the U.S. and its NATO allies against Russia, it is unclear when, how or if these U.S. efforts will be successful. Meanwhile, Griner’s loved ones, colleagues and fans all wait anxiously for more news on her condition. Hopefully, the attention being brought to her case will help, and not hurt, the chances of her release.