Russia-Ukraine War Update: Kherson Prepares for Battle
US officials met with jailed US basketball star Brittney Griner on Thursday for the first time since a Russian court rejected her appeal of a drug conviction, and the White House said she was doing “as expected”.
Ms. Griner has reluctantly become embroiled in a geopolitical battle between Russia and the West, and is fighting a Russian appeals court’s decision to uphold a nine-year sentence in a penal colony on drug charges. Ms. Griner, who recently turned 32 in Russian custody, pleaded guilty to drug trafficking and apologized for what she called an unintentional offense.
“We have been told that she is as well as can be expected under the circumstances,” said White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre. he told reporters on Air Force One while traveling with President Biden in New Mexico.
Ned Price, a spokesman for the State Department, also noted that the meeting had taken place, announcing on Twitter that US Embassy officials in Russia had seen Ms. Griner and had “seen first-hand her tenacity and tenacity despite her current circumstances.”
.@USEmbRU officials visited Brittney Griner today. They saw 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.
— Ned Price (@StateDeptSpox) November 3, 2022
In October, one of Ms. Griner’s lawyers said she was increasingly concerned about her chances of being released in a prisoner exchange and was struggling emotionally. She is allowed to leave the penal colony outside Moscow once a day, lawyer Alexander D. Boykov said in a recent interview. He said she walks around the small yard for an hour and spends the rest of the time in a small cell with two cellmates, sitting and sleeping on a specially elongated bed to accommodate her 6-foot-9 frame.
Ekaterina Kalugina, a journalist who visited Ms. Griner in her cell in the spring, said in a telephone interview in October that two of Ms. Griner’s cellmates at the time were English-speaking women who were also in prison on drug charges. She said Mrs. Griner was reading a translation of Dostoyevsky’s novel “Demons,” a political tragedy.
The Biden administration is trying to negotiate a prisoner swap with Russia to bring home Ms. Griner and Paul Whelan, an American jailed on espionage charges but with no reported breakthroughs — and extreme tension between the two countries over the war in Ukraine — and the Public Campaign pressures the athlete, led by her wife, Cherelle Griner, stepped up.
US officials said the United States had offered to release a jailed Russian arms dealer Victor Bout as part of the deal. He is serving a 25-year prison sentence for conspiring to kill Americans.
A week before Russia invaded Ukraine in February, Ms. Griner, an All-Star center with the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury and a two-time Olympic gold medalist, was detained at an airport near Moscow after customs officials found two vape cartridges with hashish oil in her luggage. She was on her way to Yekaterinburg, a city near the Ural Mountains, where she played for the women’s basketball team.
Ms. Jean-Pierre said, in comments broadcast live by the White House, that embassy officials in Moscow could visit Brittney Griner on Thursday.
“As we’ve said before, the US government has made a significant offer to the Russians to resolve the current unacceptable and unlawful detentions of US citizens Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan,” she said.
She added: “I can also tell you that in the following weeks, despite the lack of good faith negotiations by the Russians, the US government continued to pursue that offer and to suggest alternative potential ways forward with the Russians through all available channels.”
“This is still a top priority,” Ms Jean-Pierre said.
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