Despite President Joe Biden's vow to bring jailed U.S. basketball star Brittney Griner home from Russia, government officials in Moscow have been unwilling to engage in discussions about prisoner swaps.
U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan said during a White House press briefing Thursday that the Biden administration has offered a series of proposals over the past several months to bring home Griner and Marine veteran Paul Whelan, who is also jailed in Russia.
"So far, the Russians have not shown a willingness to engage in — in that back-and-forth to produce a result," Sullivan said.
On Wednesday, Biden said he hoped Russian President Vladimir Putin would be more open to discuss the cases of Griner and Whelan now that the midterm elections have passed.
"My hope is that now that the election is over, that Mr. Putin will be able to discuss with us and be willing to talk more seriously about a prisoner exchange," Biden said at a news conference.
Griner, a WNBA All-Star and two-time U.S. Olympic gold medalist, was sentenced Aug. 4 to nine years in prison after being convicted on charges of transportation and smuggling of cannabis products. On Feb. 17, she was taken into custody at Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport after authorities found four vape cartridges containing cannabis oil in Griner's luggage. She was returning to play for a Russian team during the WNBA's offseason. Griner admitted she had the cartridges in her luggage but that she inadvertently packed them and had no criminal intent.
Griner's legal team revealed Wednesday that she was transferred Nov. 4 to a penal colony. But her attorneys said they don't know where she is or where she will end up. Griner could be facing "harsh" and even "life-threatening" conditions, according to a 2021 U.S. Department of State report on human rights issues within Russia.
Whelan is serving a 16-year sentence on espionage-related charges. The U.S. considers both wrongfully detained.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said two months ago the administration made a substantial proposal to Russia for a prisoner swap. Although he did not give details, multiple news outlets reported the U.S. offered to release convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.
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