In an interview with NBC News, former NBA champion Dennis Rodman says he got “permission” to travel to Russia to seek the release of WNBA star Brittney Griner. Rodman previously used his relationship with North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un to help secure the release of Kenneth Bae.
Rodman indicated that he could make the trip as early as this week. He did not say who gave him permission to travel to Russia. Rodman would not technically need authorization from the White House to travel to Russia, but Moscow would need to provide him a visa to enter the country.
The State Department has advised Americans not to travel to Russia, and Western sanctions on Moscow make visiting a logistical challenge. Rodman appears undeterred by the complicated geopolitical situation, telling NBC, “I got permission to go to Russia to help that girl. I’m trying to go this week.”
The US government has ceased contact with the Kremlin since Putin ordered his army to invade Ukraine in February. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov have spoken once in the past six months. Three weeks ago, the top diplomats held a call about a prisoner swap, but Griner remains in Russia.
On Sunday, in an interview with Financial Times, Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations said the war in Ukraine will likely drag on because of the US refusal to engage in negotiations. “We do not have any contacts with the western delegations. On the protocol side we do not see each other . . . Privately we do not have any contacts, unfortunately . . . we simply do not talk to each other,” he said.
While Rodman does not hold any official government credentials, he has netted diplomatic successes in the past. After Christian missionary Kenneth Bae was freed from North Korea, he said, “I thank Dennis Rodman for being a catalyst for my release.” The NBA star also appeared at the 2018 Singapore summit between President Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un.
Putin and Rodman met in Moscow in 2014. Rodman said about the Russian leader, “You know, he’s actually cool. I’m not going to say — I’m not talking about politics. I ain’t about politics … this was my first time meeting him. He just walked in, shook my hand and left with all his people. I just stayed there and had a good time at his restaurant.”