WASHINGTON (AP) – President Joe Biden said Wednesday he hopes Russian President Vladimir Putin will be more willing to negotiate the release of WNBA star Brittney Griner. now that the US midterm elections are over.
“My hope is that now that the election is over, Mr. Putin will be able to discuss with us and be willing to talk more seriously about the prisoner exchange,” Biden told reporters at a news conference.
He spoke hours after Griner’s lawyers revealed she had been sent to a penal colony to serve time for drug possession.
US officials have been trying for months to negotiate the release of Griner and another American imprisoned in Russia, Paul Whelan. But there have been no visible signs of progress.
A diplomatic resolution has taken on new urgency after a Russian court rejected an appeal against her nine-year sentence last month. The eight-time All-Star center with the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury and two-time Olympic gold medalist was sentenced Aug. 4 after police said they found vape canisters of cannabis oil in her luggage at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport.
Her arrest came at a time of heightened tensions between Moscow and Washington, just days before Russia sent troops to Ukraine.and the politically charged case could lead to a high-risk prisoner exchange between Washington and Moscow.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said that “Every minute that Brittney Griner has to endure wrongful detention in Russia is a minute too long.” “As we’ve said before, the US government made a significant offer to the Russians to resolve the current unacceptable and wrongful detentions of US citizens.”
Griner’s legal team said she left a detention center outside Moscow on Nov. 4 for a penal colony — as prisons in Russia are commonly known. The move was expected after she lost her appeal.
Such transfers can take days or even weeks, during which time lawyers and loved ones usually have no contact with the prisoner. Even after she arrives, access to Griner may be difficult as many penal colonies are in remote parts of Russia.
Her lawyers said Wednesday that they did not know exactly where she was or where she would end up — but that they expected to be notified when she reached her final destination.
In a statement highlighting the work being done to secure Griner’s release, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken insisted that Russian authorities give the embassy regular access to Griner, as they have requested. Officials at the US Embassy in Moscow visited Griner last week.
A senior State Department official, who spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case, said the Russians had not notified US diplomats of Griner’s transfer ahead of time and had not yet responded to questions from the US embassy in connection with it. current location or final destination.
In many penal colonies, inmates work for minimum wage, and dissidents and other countries have denounced inmate conditions. Imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny went on hunger strike to protest his treatment, including officials’ refusal to give him proper medication and allow his doctor to visit him behind bars.
He also protested the hourly checks a guard does on him at night, saying they amount to sleep-deprivation torture.
Griner, 32, who was stopped while returning to play for a Russian team during the WNBA offseason, has admitted she had the canisters in her luggage. But she testified that she had inadvertently packed them in a hurry and that she had no criminal intent. Her defense team submitted written statements that she was given cannabis to treat the pain.
The Associated Press and other news organizations have reported that Washington has offered to exchange Griner and Whelan — an American serving a 16-year sentence in Russia for espionage — for Viktor Bout.. Bout is a Russian arms dealer who is serving a 25-year sentence in the US and once earned the nickname “dealer of death”.
Associated Press writers Matthew Lee and Eric Tucker contributed to this report from Washington.
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