US President Joe Biden said on Wednesday he hoped Russian President Vladimir Putin would be more willing to negotiate the release of Olympian and WNBA basketball star Brittney Griner now that the midterm elections are over. period in the states have ended.
“I hope that now that the election is over, Mr. Putin can discuss with us and be ready to talk more seriously about a prisoner exchange,” President Biden said at a news conference.
He made the statement hours after revelations by Griner’s attorneys that she had been sent to a penal colony to serve her sentence for drug possession.
For months, US authorities have been trying to negotiate the release of Ms. Griner and another American imprisoned in Russia, Paul Whelan. There have been no clear signs of progress.
The case became a diplomatic emergency after a Russian court rejected an appeal against his nine-year prison sentence last month.
American WNBA Phoenix Mercury player and two-time Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner was found guilty of drug possession on August 4, after police said they discovered vaping bottles containing cannabis oil in her luggage. at Moscow-Sheremetyevo airport.
His arrest came at a time of heightened tension between Moscow and Washington, just days before Russia sent troops to Ukraine.
Thus, the case could lead to a high-risk prisoner swap between Washington and Moscow.
“Every minute that Brittney Griner is wrongfully detained is a minute too long,” said White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre.
“As we have said before, the US government has made an important offer to the Russians to resolve the unacceptable and unjustified detentions of US citizens,” he added.
Griner’s legal team said the athlete was released from a detention center outside Moscow on November 4 to be transferred to a penal colony, as prisons are commonly known in Russia. The move was expected since she lost her appeal.
These transfers can last days or even weeks, during which the lawyers and their relatives generally have no contact with the prisoner. Even after her arrival, access to Brittney Griner can be difficult, as many penal colonies are located in remote parts of Russia.
His attorneys said Wednesday they didn’t know exactly where he was or where he would end up, but hoped to be notified when he reached his final destination.
In a statement highlighting the work done to secure Ms. Griner’s release, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken insisted that Russian authorities give the embassy regular access to him, as they were told. demands. Representatives from the US Embassy in Moscow also met with him last week.
A senior State Department official, who spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter, said the Russians did not notify US diplomats about Griner’s transfer and have not yet responded to inquiries from the US embassy. about their current whereabouts or final destination.
Dissidents and other countries have denounced the conditions of detention in Russia’s penal colonies. In particular, imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has gone on a hunger strike to protest his treatment, including the authorities’ refusal to give him proper medication and to allow his doctor to visit him behind bars. .
He also described the sleep deprivation suffered during the night controls as a form of torture.
Brittney Griner, 32, arrested while returning to play for a Russian team during the WNBA offseason, admitted she had the containers in her luggage. She said that she had inadvertently packed them in a hurry and that she had no criminal intentions. Her defense team submitted written statements that she was prescribed cannabis to treat pain.
The Associated Press and other outlets have reported that Washington has offered to trade Griner and Whelan, an American serving a 16-year sentence in Russia for espionage, for Viktor Bout. He is a Russian arms dealer serving a 25-year prison sentence in the United States and has previously been given the nickname “death dealer.”
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