US embassy officials visit Brittney Griner in Russian prison

A White House spokeswoman says the jailed US basketball star is ‘doing as well as can be expected under the circumstances’.

Brittney Griner
A Russian court last week upheld Griner's nine-year sentence [File: Alexander Zemlianichenko/Pool via AP Photo]

Officials from the US embassy in Moscow have met with imprisoned American basketball star Brittney Griner, the Biden administration said, vowing to continue to push for her release.

Thursday’s visit is the first United States consular access Griner has had since early August, when she was convicted of drug charges for bringing cannabis-infused vape cartridges into Russia and sentenced to nine years in prison.

US officials during the meeting saw “Griner’s tenacity and perseverance despite her present circumstances”, US State Department spokesperson Ned Price wrote on Twitter on Thursday.

Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, is one of the two US citizens that Washington says are unjustifiably imprisoned in Russia; Paul Whelan, a US Marine veteran, was sentenced to 16 years in prison in 2020 on espionage charges.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said on Thursday that the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) star “is doing as well as can be expected under the circumstances”.

Jean-Pierre also stressed that the administration of US President Joe Biden was working “to resolve the current unacceptable and wrongful detentions” of Griner and Whelan.

Griner’s arrest earlier this year came days before Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, and her case has moved through the Russian court system amid frayed relations between Moscow and Washington over the war.

Last week, a Russian court upheld Griner’s nine-year sentence, which the basketball star’s defence lawyers described as excessive.

In previous proceedings, Griner said she did not intend to bring the vape cartridges into Russia, saying that it was an “honest mistake” that they ended up in her bags.

Since Griner’s arrest, relatives, teammates and supporters have been calling on the US government to put its full weight behind the case to secure her release.

Last month, Biden met the Griner and Whelan families to update them on his administration’s efforts.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in July that Washington made a “substantial proposal” to Moscow to free the pair.

Several US media outlets reported around that time that the Biden administration offered a prisoner exchange involving a Russian arms dealer jailed in the US.

The White House’s Jean-Pierre told reporters on Thursday that “despite a lack of good faith negotiation by the Russians, the US government has continued to follow up on that offer and propose alternative potential ways forward with Russia through all available channels”.

“This continues to be a top priority,” she said.

Despite the deteriorating ties between Washington and Moscow, Russia in April freed Trevor Reed, a former US Marine. In exchange, the US released Russian pilot Konstantin Yaroshenko, who was serving a 20-year prison sentence in the US over drug charges.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies