Russia failed to warn US about transfer of Brittney Griner to penal colony, State Department says
State Department spokesman Ned Price says the Russian government did not notify the White House of Brittney Griner’s transfer to a penal colony last week and has yet to engage in discussions about WNBA star outing and former US Marine Paul Whelan “with a seriousness of purpose.”
During a news conference Thursday, Price was asked to elaborate on President Biden’s remarks a day earlier when he said he hoped Russia would be more open to talking Griner’s release now that the midterms are over.
“Well, the fact is that what the president was alluding to is the fact that the Russians have so far not been serious about the constructive approach that we would like to see. We presented this essential proposal. , as secretary [of State Antony] Blinken announced the release of Paul Whelan and Brittney Griner a few months ago,” Price said.
He continued: “The fact that Paul Whelan and Brittney Griner remain behind bars — Brittney Griner for about 10 months, Paul Whelan for more than three years — speaks to the fact that this process has not started as quickly as we would have liked. You heard us say it from our side. This process was not static. We have presented this essential proposal. We had talks with the Russians. Those discussions continue. We continue to look for ways to ensure that Paul Whelan and Brittney Griner are released as soon as possible so they can be returned to their loved ones here in the United States.”
Price declined to comment further on the president’s remarks about the midterm elections, but added that the US continued to “press (the Russians) to engage seriously and in good faith on the original proposal that we put forward.”
According to Griner’s lawyers, she left a detention center outside Moscow on Friday, but her exact location is unknown. Transfers to penal colonies, usually in remote parts of Russia, can go days or even weeks without any contact, according to the Associated Press.
On February 17, Griner was arrested by Russian police at Sheremetyevo International Airport in Moscow for illegal possession of cannabis. On August 4, she was found guilty in a Russian court and sentenced to nine years in prison.
Price said Thursday that the White House had not been notified of Griner’s transfer.
“Unfortunately, it has become common practice on the part of the Russian Federation not to notify us in advance when… US citizen prisoners are transferred from one detention center to another… We received no warning. We ended up seeing the press reports, and we’ve been working very closely with Brittney Griner’s representatives, and we continue to do so. As soon as we found out about her transfer, we formally requested from Russian government, we asked for more information about her transfer,” he said.
“We’re also committed to doing everything we can to make sure her conditions are as safe as possible, as healthy as possible during this time. That’s something we’re doing for all detained American citizens in Russia and really around the world.”
Russia continued to warn the US conduct all prisoner exchange negotiations “quietly under the tight lid of any information.”
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