U.S. President Joe Biden mentioned Wednesday that he hopes Russian President Vladimir Putin can be extra keen to negotiate the discharge of WNBA star Brittney Griner now that the U.S. midterm elections are over.
“My hope is that now that the election is over, that Mr. Putin can be in a position to focus on with us and be keen to discuss extra significantly a couple of prisoner alternate,” Biden advised reporters at a information convention.
He spoke hours after Griner’s attorneys revealed that she had been sent to a penal colony to serve her sentence for drug possession.
U.S. officers have for months tried to negotiate the discharge of Griner and one other American jailed in Russia, Paul Whelan. But there have been no overt indicators of progress.
A diplomatic decision has taken on new urgency after a Russian court docket rejected an attraction of her nine-year sentence final month. The eight-time all-star heart with the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury and two-time Olympic gold medalist was convicted Aug. 4 after police mentioned they discovered vape canisters containing marijuana oil in her baggage at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport.
Her arrest got here at a time of heightened tensions between Moscow and Washington, simply days earlier than Russia sent troops into Ukraine, and the politically charged case could lead on to a high-stakes prisoner alternate between Washington and Moscow.
“Every minute that Brittney Griner should endure wrongful detention in Russia is a minute too lengthy,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre mentioned. “As we’ve mentioned earlier than, the U.S. Government made a major supply to the Russians to resolve the present unacceptable and wrongful detentions of American residents.”
Griner’s authorized workforce mentioned she left a detention heart outdoors Moscow on Nov. 4 for a penal colony — as prisons in Russia are generally identified. The transfer was anticipated since she misplaced her attraction.
Such transfers can take days and even weeks, throughout which period attorneys and family members normally do not have contact with the prisoner. Even after she arrives, entry to Griner could also be troublesome since many penal colonies are in distant components of Russia.
Her attorneys mentioned Wednesday that they didn’t know precisely the place she was or the place she would find yourself — however that they anticipated to be notified when she reached her remaining vacation spot.
In an announcement stressing the work being completed to safe Griner’s launch, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken insisted that Russian authorities give the embassy common entry to Griner, as they’re required to do. Officials on the U.S. Embassy in Moscow visited Griner final week.
A senior State Department official, who spoke to reporters on situation of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the case, mentioned the Russians had not notified American diplomats of Griner’s switch forward of time and had not but responded to queries from the American embassy about both her present whereabouts or final vacation spot.
In many penal colonies, prisoners work for minimal pay, and dissidents and different international locations have denounced the circumstances of these held. Imprisoned Russian opposition chief Alexei Navalny went on a starvation strike to protest his therapy, together with officers’ refusal to give him the proper medicines and to permit his physician to go to him behind bars.
He additionally protested the hourly checks a guard makes on him at evening, saying they quantity to sleep deprivation torture.
Griner, 32, who was detained whereas returning to play for a Russian workforce throughout the WNBA’s offseason, has admitted that she had the canisters in her baggage. But she testified that she had inadvertently packed them in haste and that she had no prison intent. Her protection workforce offered written statements that she had been prescribed marijuana to deal with ache.
The Associated Press and different information organizations have reported that Washington has supplied to alternate Griner and Whelan — an American serving a 16-year sentence in Russia for espionage — for Viktor Bout. Bout is a Russian arms supplier who’s serving a 25-year sentence within the U.S. and as soon as earned the nickname the “service provider of demise.”
Associated Press writers Matthew Lee and Eric Tucker contributed to this report from Washington.