West News Wire: Former professional basketball player and self-described “basketball ambassador” Dennis Rodman has announced he will visit Russia in an effort to visit Brittney Griner, a professional women’s basketball player who is currently imprisoned.

In an interview with NBC News, Rodman, whose post-National Basketball Association (NBA) career has been defined by his peculiar friendship with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, said he hoped to travel to Russia this week to support Griner, who was given a nine-year prison sentence for drug offenses by a Russian court in early August.

According to the United States, Griner was unfairly imprisoned after being detained at a Russian airport when officials discovered cartridges containing cannabis oil in her luggage. The arrest came at a time of heightened tensions between Washington and Moscow, just days before Russia invaded Ukraine.

“I got permission to go to Russia to help that girl,” Rodman, 61, told the US news network, speaking from a sport apparel convention in Washington, DC. “I’m trying to go this week.”

The statement comes as the US has been trying to negotiate a prisoner swap, seeking the release of Griner and US citizen Paul Whelan in exchange for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.

However, speaking to NBC, a senior official from the administration warned that “anything other than negotiating further through the established channel is likely to complicate and hinder release efforts”.

The US State Department urges Americans against travelling to Russia.

Rodman has previously waded into diplomatically fraught prisoner situations, saying his personal appeal to North Korea’s Kim helped lead to the release of missioner Kenneth Bay in 2014. Rodman also travelled to Singapore when Kim met then-US President Donald Trump there in 2018.

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He previously met Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2014, saying after the meeting that Putin was “actually cool”.

He told NBC he was confident in his understanding of the Russian leader.

“I know Putin too well,” he said.

The case of Griner, a two-time Olympic basketball gold medallist and Women’s NBA champion, has been highlighted by athletes, advocates and legislators, who have continually heaped pressure on the Biden administration to do more to secure her release.

The Kremlin has denied the arrest was politically motivated.

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