The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Brittney Griner, imprisoned in Russia, meets with U.S. Embassy officials

WNBA star and two-time Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner is seen through a video camera viewer as she waits to appear in a video link provided by the Russian Federal Penitentiary Service before a hearing at the Moscow Regional Court. (Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP)

U.S. Embassy officials in Russia met with imprisoned WNBA star Brittney Griner, the White House said Thursday.

“We are told she’s doing as well as can be expected under the circumstances,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters aboard Air Force One after the State Department confirmed the meeting.

Griner was sentenced to 9½ years in prison for bringing less than a gram of cannabis oil, which is illegal in Russia, into the country. She has been imprisoned since her Feb. 17 arrest.

Last week, a Russian court rejected Griner’s appeal of her sentence.

Jean-Pierre said Thursday that Russia has continued to refuse a “significant offer” from the United States to “resolve the current unacceptable and wrongful detention” of Griner and Paul Whelan, a former Marine also imprisoned in Russia. Just last month, Jean-Pierre told reporters that Russia had yet to respond to the “serious” proposal the Biden administration made in July to free Griner.

“Despite a lack of good-faith negotiation by the Russians, the U.S. government has continued to follow up on that offer and propose alternative potential ways forward with Russians through all available channels,” Jean-Pierre said on Thursday. “This continues to be a top priority.”

Jean-Pierre, however, offered no details on any alternative proposal offered to Russia.

In a tweet Thursday, State Department spokesman Ned Price said the U.S. Embassy representatives who met with Griner “saw firsthand her tenacity and perseverance despite her present circumstances.”

“We continue to press for the immediate release of Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan and fair treatment for every detained American,” Price said.

A spokesman for Griner’s family had no immediate comment on the embassy officials’ visit.

The U.S. government has long characterized Griner’s arrest as a “wrongful detainment.”

Last week, after the Russian court’s dismissal of her appeal, Griner’s attorneys said they would confer with their client about the possibility of further appeals and that they intended to make use of “all the available legal tools.” Once the appeals process is over, she is set to be transferred to a penal colony.

Griner, a 6-foot-9 center with the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury and a two-time Olympic gold medalist, was detained in February while trying to enter Russia at Sheremetyevo International Airport near Moscow, where she plays during the WNBA offseason. She turned 32 last month while in prison, an occasion family and friends used to call for her release and safe return to the United States.

In August, Russia acknowledged for the first time that negotiations were underway to release Griner and Whelan, but it did not confirm media reports indicating a potential swap for Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer serving a 25-year sentence in the United States.

Griner’s and Whelan’s families met with President Biden at the White House in September to discuss their relatives’ imprisonment. At the time, White House spokesman John Kirby told reporters that Biden is “not going to let up” in his efforts to get Russia to free Griner and Whelan.

“We want these two individuals home back where they belong with their families,” Kirby said.

Maite Fernández Simon and Mary Ilyushina contributed to this report.

Loading...