Brittney Griner meets with US officials in Russia jail: ‘Doing as well as can be expected’

A Russian court recently rejected her appeal to have a nine-year prison sentence reduced

Graig Graziosi
Thursday 03 November 2022 19:36 GMT
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Related video: Brittney Griner pleads guilty as Russian court sentences her to nine years in jail

US officials met with former WNBA star Brittney Griner on Thursday, saying the imprisoned athlete is doing “as well as can be expected.”

The meeting was the first time Ms Griner has spoken face-to-face with US officials since a Russian court rejected her appeal following her conviction on drug smuggling charges.

“We are told she is doing as well as can be expected under the circumstances,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters on Air Force One Thursday.

Ms Griner was arrested in February in a Moscow airport when officials found cannabis oil in her bag. She was detained in Russia and later convicted on drug smuggling charges. A Russian judge sentenced her to nine years in prison, which reportedly will include transfer to a penal colony.

The WNBA star was detained just days before Russia launched its full invasion of Ukraine, and critics have accused the nation of using her as political leverage against the US.

A spokesman for the US State Department, Ned Price, confirmed that the meeting happened in a post on Twitter.

"[US Embassy officials in Russia] visited Brittney Griner today. They saw firsthand her tenacity and perseverance despite her present circumstances," he wrote. "We continue to press for the immediate release of Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan and fair treatment for every detained American."

The New York Times reports that last month, one of Ms Griner’s lawyers said the basketball star was struggling emotionally and was becoming anxious over a possible prisoner swap with Russia that would grant her release.

Alexandr Boykocv, one of her lawyers, said she is allowed an hour each day to walk around in a small courtyard outside and spends the rest of her time locked in a small cell with two cellmates. Russian officials had to construct a special bed for her due to her 6-foot-9 height.

According to Ekaterina Kalugina, a journalist who visited Ms Griner over the spring, her cellmates both speak English and are also being imprisoned for drug smuggling charges.

The Biden administration said freeing Ms Griner was a priority but has thus far been unsuccessful in negotiations with Russia to secure her release. The US offered to trade her and Paul Whelan, another American imprisoned in Russia on espionage charges, in exchange for Viktor Bout, a notorious arms dealer known as the "Merchant of Death."

"As we have said before, the US government made a significant offer to the Russians to resolve the current unacceptable and wrongful detentions of American citizens Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan," Ms Jean-Pierre said on Thursday.

She said that in recent weeks, "despite a lack of good faith negotiation by the Russians, the US government has continued to follow up on that offer and propose alternative potential ways forward with Russians through all available means."

"This continues to be a top priority," she said.

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