US President Joe Biden sharply denounced a Russian court’s decision Thursday to sentence WNBA star Brittney Griner to nine years in prison.
Biden said the sentence is “one more reminder of what the world already knew: Russia is wrongfully detaining Brittney.”
“It’s unacceptable, and I call on Russia to release her immediately so she can be with her wife, loved ones, friends, and teammates,” he said in a statement. “My administration will continue to work tirelessly and pursue every possible avenue to bring Brittney and Paul Whelan home safely as soon as possible.”
His comments came after a Russian judge earlier Thursday found Griner guilty of drug possession and smuggling, and sentenced her to nine years in prison. Griner has been in Russian custody since February when she was arrested after flying to the country to compete in a basketball game.
Griner pleaded guilty in July to drug charges but has maintained she used medicinal cannabis to treat pain and denied she intended to violate Russian law.
The US has put forward what it says is a “significant proposal” for the release of Griner and Paul Whelan, another American who has been imprisoned in Russia on espionage charges.
Biden just called on Putin to release Brittney Griner…
Chile please, he can’t even stop Nancy Pelosi from going on vacations against his will and he thinks a man like Putin will listen to him?
— Lavern Spicer 🇺🇸 (@lavern_spicer) August 4, 2022
The US has not offered details about its proposal but CNN reported Wednesday that the Biden administration offered to swap convicted Russian arms trafficker Viktor Bout for the two Americans.
Bout is serving a 25-year prison sentence and the Justice Department has voiced opposition to the potential exchange, according to CNN.
The news network reported that the Russians have demanded that the US include a former colonel of Russia’s spy agency, FSB, in any potential swap for Griner and Whelan.
The request to free convicted murderer Vadim Krasikov, in addition to Bout, was made earlier this month.
Krasikov was convicted by a German court in 2021 of murdering a former Chechen fighter in Berlin. He remains in prison in Germany.
The Biden administration “did not view it as a legitimate counter to the US’ offer,” according to the CNN report.
Anadolu with additional input by GVS News Desk