A surprising figure has emerged in the ongoing effort to get WNBA superstar Brittney Griner out of Russian imprisonment.
In a recent interview with TMZ Sports, Jones, who holds dual citizenship in the United States and Russia, stated he met with Russian president Vladimir Putin personally in the past.
“I had a friend, a couple of my friends that I knew, I called and I asked him ‘Is there any way we can try to facilitate?’ because I don’t do politics. I’m a sports figure and they love me as a sports figure. ‘Is there any way we can use my sports influence to possibly can get anything arranged to help get Brittney home?'” Jones said.
Jones also stated that he has a friend who’s close to Putin.
“One of my guys is like — he’s the right-hand man to the office of Mr. Putin, so he’s high up on the political scheme. He’s a reporter and he usually does most of the reporting for Mr. Putin so he can go make direct contact with whoever necessary to help me.”
“Would I put my life on the line, take a chance to go to Russia to exchange prisoners? Yes, I would,” Jones told TMZ Sports (3:47 mark). “Why? Because if it was my daughter, I would want somebody to do the same thing for me.”
Griner has been jailed on drug charges in Russia since February after authorities allegedly found hash oil in her luggage. She is facing up to 10 years in prison.
Since then, the United States has classified Griner as being “wrongfully detained.”
“The welfare and safety of U.S. citizens abroad is among the highest priorities of the U.S government,” the U.S. State Department (h/t ESPN’s T.J. Quinn) said last month. “The Department of State has determined that the Russian Federation has wrongfully detained U.S. citizen Brittney Griner. … The U.S. government will continue to undertake efforts to provide appropriate support to Ms. Griner.”
Griner has played basketball in Russia since 2014 for UMMC Ekaterinburg.