The Biden administration is discouraging former NBA player Dennis Rodman from traveling to Russia to help free fellow basketball star Brittney Griner, saying such a visit would only complicate existing efforts to secure Griner’s release from Russian prison.
“We put forward a substantial proposal to Russia to seek the freedom of Paul Whelan or Brittney Griner,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price told reporters at a briefing Monday afternoon, when asked about Rodman’s stated plans.
“We believe that anything other than negotiating further through the established channel is likely to complicate and hinder those release efforts,” he added.
Price stressed that Rodman would not be traveling on behalf of the U.S. government if he did go to Russia. He also reiterated that the administration has strongly advised American citizens against traveling to Russia because of the threat of wrongful detentions and Russia’s war in Ukraine, among other reasons.
Rodman told NBC News over the weekend that he planned to visit Russia to try to help free Griner, a WNBA player who was detained in Russia on drug charges in February and has since been sentenced to nine years in prison.
“I got permission to go to Russia to help that girl,” Rodman told the outlet. “I’m trying to go this week.”
The White House National Security Council did not respond to a request for comment on Rodman’s plans.
Griner pleaded guilty to the drug charges, but said she didn’t mean to pack vape canisters with cannabis oil in her bag. The U.S. has officially declared her as being wrongfully detained.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken revealed last month that the administration had proposed a deal with Moscow to secure the release of both Griner and Whelan, a former Marine who is serving a 16-year sentence for espionage charges that he denies.
The Biden administration is said to have proposed a prisoner exchange that would involve trading Griner and Whelan for Viktor Bout, a notorious Russian arms dealer detained in the U.S.
Blinken has discussed the proposal with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, but there are few signs of any progress. Russia did confirm for the first time earlier this month that the discussions were underway.
Source: The Hill