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Brittney Griner is meeting with US officials in Russia as the White House works to secure her release

Brittney Griner is meeting with US officials in Russia as the White House works to secure her release

WNBA star Brittney Griner, who faces nine years in prison in Russia, met Thursday with officials at the U.S. Embassy in Russia, State Department spokesman Ned Price said.

“They have seen firsthand her tenacity and tenacity despite her current circumstances. We continue to press for the immediate release of Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan and the fair treatment of every detained American,” Price said in tweet announcing the visit.

Thursday’s visit marks the first time U.S. officials have been able to reach Griner directly since early August. Recently, they were able to speak with her on the phone on her birthday on October 18.

PHOTO: Basketball player Brittney Griner, who was detained at Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport and later charged with illegal possession of cannabis, drinks water in the cage for the accused after the verdict of a court in Khimki, near Moscow, on August 4, 2022.

U.S. basketball player Brittney Griner, who was detained at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport and later charged with illegal possession of cannabis, drinks water in the defendants’ cage after the verdict in a court in Khimki, near Moscow, on August 4, 2022.

Evgenia Novozhenina/Reuters, FILE

Griner, a 31-year-old Houston native who plays professional basketball for the Phoenix Mercury, was detained at Sheremetyevo International Airport in Khimki on February 17 while returning to Russia to play during the WNBA offseason after being accused of possessing a vape cartridge containing hashish oil. which is illegal in the country.

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters Thursday that the Biden administration had been told Griner was “doing as well as can be expected under the circumstances.”

Jean-Pierre said securing the freedom of Griner and Whelan, a U.S. citizen and former Marine detained in Russia since 2019, remains a “top priority” for the White House.

“As we’ve said before, the US government has made a significant offer to the Russians to release the current unacceptable and illegal unlawful detentions of US citizens Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan,” Jean-Pierre said. “I can also tell you that in the following weeks, despite the lack of good faith negotiations on the part of the Russians, the US government continued to pursue that offer and to suggest alternative potential ways forward with the Russians through all available channels.”

Price has previously expressed concern about irregular access to Americans detained in Russia.

“We continue to convey to the Russian government the necessity of consistency and regular consular access to Brittney Griner, but also to all those Americans detained in Russia,” Price said last month.

Griner’s meeting with US officials comes after a The Russian court rejected Griner’s appeal at the hearing on October 25.

Griner made a virtual appearance at her appeal hearing and urged the court to reconsider her sentence, saying people found guilty of lesser crimes were given shorter sentences.

“I’m begging the court to consider all the roles that were overlooked in the first trial and reconsider my sentence here,” Griner said, apologizing for her “mistake” and saying it was “traumatic” to be away from her family.

PHOTO: Brittney Griner stands in a cage for the accused during the reading of the verdict in a court in Khimki, Russia, on August 4, 2022.

Brittney Griner stands in a cage for the accused during the reading of the verdict in a court in Khimki, Russia, on August 4, 2022.

Evgenia Novozhenina/POOL via Reuters

Before her appeal was rejected, Griner’s lawyer Alexander Boykov told ABC News, “Her fear of not being released is mostly related to the negotiations, which we are not aware of at all.”

Griner’s wife, Cherelle Griner, he told “The View” in an interview that aired Tuesday the rejection of the WNBA star’s appeal was “just disheartening” and left her in “complete disbelief”.

“I understand that I’m in the field of law that every state, every country has its own rules, but this is absurd,” said Cherelle Griner. “Crime and punishment are disproportionate at their best… There are people convicted of murder in Russia who [have] a sentence much shorter than BG, and it just doesn’t make sense to me.”

Greener pleaded guilty to drug charges in Julysaying that vape cartridges containing hashish oil were in her luggage by mistake and that she had no “intention” to violate Russian law.

On May 3, the US government classified Griner’s case as “improperly detained,” meaning the US will work more aggressively to negotiate her release even as the legal case against her unfolds, the State Department said.

Russia invasion of neighboring Ukraine it began a week after Griner was detained, and some officials have expressed concern that Americans imprisoned in Russia could be used as leverage in the ongoing war.

ABC News’ Sarah Kolinovsky, Tanya Stukalova and Shannon Crawford contributed to this report.





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