U.S. Embassy said Russia denied 3 visits to Brittney Griner this month

The United States Embassy has been stopped from visiting detained Phoenix Mercury star Brittney Griner multiple times this month, the embassy said on Tuesday.

Russian authorities have denied three visits in May, which the Americans called “unacceptable,” the embassy said in a tweet.

“International law requires that Russia provide consular access to Brittney Griner and that access has now been denied three times,” Griner’s agent, Lindsay Kagawa Colas said. “This proves Brittney is being used as a political bargaining chip.

“No athlete representing any country should have to travel in fear of being taken and used as a negotiating tool. We must protect the sanctity of sport and the entire global sports community should stand together and demand Brittney Griner’s release.”

Griner was arrested in February after Russian officials allegedly found vape cartridges with hashish oil in her luggage at a Moscow airport. The 31-year-old, who was playing for UMMC Ekaterinburg in Russia during the WNBA offseason, is under investigation for a large-scale transportation of drugs, Russian authorities allege. She could face up to 10 years in prison if convicted.

Many have feared Russia would use Griner as a political bargaining chip and a “high-profile hostage” amid the country’s invasion of Ukraine. Russia is reportedly looking to exchange Griner in a prisoner swap for convicted arms trafficker Viktor Bout, whose nickname is the “Merchant of Death.”

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke to Griner’s wife, Cherelle Griner, on Saturday, according to CNN. He assured her that Griner’s release is a top priority for the department.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver said on ESPN on Tuesday ahead of the draft lottery that he and the league were working with the WNBA and the United States government to help bring Griner home, too.

"We've been in touch with the White House, the State Department, hostage negotiators, every level of government and also through the private sector as well," Silver said. "Our No. 1 priority is her health and safety and making sure that she gets out of Russia."

Griner had her pre-trial detention extended until June last week. No trial date has been set.

“I have every expectation they will drag out the process as much as possible,” William Pomeranz, a professor of Russian law and the acting director of the Kennan Institute, told Yahoo Sports last month. “I think that essentially and unfortunately, Brittney is in the equivalent of a hostage situation.”