Former NBA star Dennis Rodman said last week that he would travel to Russia to seek the release of WNBA star Brittney Griner. But after the U.S. government publicly discouraged Rodman’s idea, he appears to have changed his mind and will not be going to Russia.
While at a restaurant in Washington, D.C., on Saturday, Rodman told NBC News about his plan to go to Russia to help Griner, who was sentenced to nine years in prison earlier this month for bringing illegal cannabis oil vape cartridges into Russia in February.
“I got permission to go to Russia to help that girl,” Rodman said Saturday. “I’m trying to go this week.”
However, government officials immediately indicated they thought Rodman’s plan was not a good one.
If he had gone, the State Department made it clear that Rodman would not be acting in any official capacity for the United States.
“He would not be traveling on behalf of the U.S. government,” Ned Price, a State Department spokesman, told ABC News.
“We believe that anything other than negotiating further through the established channel is likely to complicate and hinder those release efforts,” Price added.
Rodman, in the midst of scrutiny over his comments, told ABC News on Monday that he now has no plans to travel to Russia, the network reported.
The State Department also issued a travel advisory to discourage all Americans from visiting Russia.
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“Do not travel to Russia due to the unprovoked and unjustified invasion of Ukraine by Russian military forces, the potential for harassment against U.S. citizens by Russian government security officials, the singling out of U.S. citizens in Russia by Russian government security officials including for detention, the arbitrary enforcement of local law, limited flights into and out of Russia, the Embassy’s limited ability to assist U.S. citizens in Russia, COVID-19-related restrictions, and terrorism.
“U.S. citizens residing or travelling in Russia should depart Russia immediately. Exercise increased caution due to wrongful detention,” the advisory outlined.
However, even though the advisory is in place, Rodman does not need special permission from the U.S. to go to Russia. He just would have needed a visa from Moscow, NBC reported.
Rodman has a history of informal diplomacy with international leaders who have a strained relationship with the United States. Over the past 10 years, the former NBA star has had a relationship with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and has visited the country multiple times.
Rodman even gave himself some credit for helping secure the release of American Kenneth Bae from North Korea in 2014, NBC reported. He also visited Moscow that year and met Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Rodman’s relationship with Putin is one reason he seemed keen on going to Russia on Griner’s behalf.
“I know Putin too well,” Rodman said, per NBC News.
But throughout the negotiations between the U.S. and Russia over Griner, Russian officials have said they want to avoid “microphone diplomacy” and prefer to negotiate privately through a channel that has been established between Putin and President Joe Biden, CBS News reported.
“The U.S. already has made mistakes, trying to solve such problems via ‘microphone diplomacy.’ They are not solved that way,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
Russia and the U.S. have discussed the possibility of a prisoner swap, according to The New York Times.
The Biden administration has offered to free imprisoned Russian arms trafficker Viktor Bout to secure the release of Griner and another American, Paul Whelan, the Times reported last month.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Russia and the United States had “communicated repeatedly and directly” about the proposal, although he would not describe Russia’s response, the Times said.