The White House says no progress has been made in negotiations with Russian officials to release basketball star Brittney Griner as she appeals her jail term for bringing a small amount of cannabis oil into the country.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said at a press conference on Tuesday that the Kremlin has not yet responded to the Biden administration’s “serious” proposal in July to release Griner. Jean-Pierre reiterated the White House’s stance that Griner has been unjustly imprisoned, calling her upcoming appeal “another sham lawsuit.”
A Russian court sentenced Griner, an Olympic gold medalist and top player with Phoenix Mercury of the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA’s), to nine years in prison and a fine of approximately $16,000 after being found guilty of drug trafficking with criminal intent.
US officials quickly condemned the verdict, saying they were working on a possible prisoner swap for Griner and Paul Whelan, another American serving time in Russia after the former Marine was arrested in a Moscow hotel in 2018 on charges of espionage and later sentenced to prison. 16 years in prison. The proposed deal to release Griner reportedly involves the US releasing Viktor Bout, a notorious Russian arms dealer known as the “Merchant of Death.”
“We want Russia to take seriously this offer that we have put on the table – a substantial offer as you have often heard us say,” Jean-Pierre said. “Or they can make a serious counter-offer, but then they have to make a serious counter-offer.”
President Joe Biden has met with the families of Griner and Whelan, Jean-Pierre said. Jean-Pierre said Biden is determined to release all Americans wrongfully detained abroad, pointing out how seven American citizens were freed from Venezuela over the weekend.
Earlier, the Kremlin accused the US of obstructing negotiations over a prisoner exchange.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova posted on Telegram in September that Moscow was willing to talk, but said US diplomats were not providing enough information, state news agency TASS reported.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken brought up the prisoner swap during a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in July. TASS reported that US media, citing unnamed sources, published stories that Russia wanted to add another prisoner to the deal. Lavrov told Blinken to return to “quiet diplomacy,” TASS said.
Griner, 31, was arrested in February at an airport near Moscow after playing for a Russian team during the WNBA season. Her lawyers have alleged that she accidentally packed vape cartridges and cannabis oil, which they said she used for medical purposes.
News week has contacted Calder Hynes, spokeswoman for Cherelle Griner, wife of Brittney Griner.