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No movement to release Brittney Griner from Russia, says Biden

President Joe Biden said he will meet with Vladimir Putin when the Russian leader is ready to discuss Griner’s case.

US President Joe Biden said there had been no movement with Russian President Vladimir Putin regarding the release of American basketball star Brittney Griner.

Biden made the remarks Wednesday during a brief exchange with reporters outside the White House.

On Tuesday, Biden told CNN he has no plans to meet Putin at next month’s G20 summit unless the Russian leader is willing to talk about jailing the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) star.

“Look, I have no intention of meeting with him,” Biden said. “But if he came to me at the G20, for example, and said, ‘I want to talk about the release of Griner,’ I would meet with him.”

A Russian court convicted Griner of drug smuggling on August 4 after police said in February she found vape canisters containing cannabis oil in her luggage at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport.

The eight-time All-Star with the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury and two-time Olympic gold medalist admitted to having the canisters in her luggage but testified that she accidentally grabbed them in a hurry and that she had no criminal intent. Her defense team submitted written statements that her cannabis had been prescribed to treat pain.

She was sentenced to nine years in prison for drug possession – almost ten years. After the conviction, Griner’s lawyers argued that the sentence was excessive. They also said that in similar cases in Russia, defendants have received an average prison sentence of about five years, with about a third of them being paroled.

Griner’s attorneys have filed an appeal, which is scheduled to be heard in court on October 25.

Her arrest in February came at a time of heightened tensions between Moscow and Washington, just days before Russia invaded Ukraine. It was then that Griner, considered one of the greatest players in WNBA history, returned to Russia, where she played in the US League’s offseason.

Prior to her sentencing, the US State Department had declared Griner “unlawfully detained,” a charge Russia strongly denies.

In July, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced that Washington had made a “substantive proposal” to bring Griner home with Paul Whelan, an American serving a 16-year sentence for espionage in Russia.

Several news organizations have reported that Washington has offered to swap Griner and Whelan for Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer who is serving a 25-year sentence in the US and once earned the nickname “dealer of death.”

The White House said it has not yet received a productive response from Russia to the offer.

Last month, Biden met with Cherelle Griner, Brittney Griner’s wife, as well as Lindsay Colas, the player’s advisor. Biden also sat down separately with Elizabeth Whelan, sister of Paul Whelan.

The White House said after the meetings that the president reassured the families of his “continued commitment to using all available avenues to bring Brittney and Paul home safely.”

On Sunday, former US Ambassador to the United Nations Bill Richardson, who traveled to Moscow in September and met senior Russian officials, told CNN that Griner and Whelan may be released by the end of the year.

“I’m cautiously optimistic about the Griner [and] Whelan negotiations,” said Richardson, who has privately worked to secure the release of American prisoners abroad.

Richardson added that he thought an exchange of prisoners would involve two Russians in exchange for the two Americans. He did not identify the Russians, nor did he give an exact time frame.

When asked if the two Americans could be released by the end of the year, he said: “I think so. Well, I hate making predictions, but yeah.”

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