US awaits ‘serious response’ from Russia over Brittney Griner release proposal
The US is waiting for a “serious response” from Russia to a series of proposals regarding the release of the basketball star Brittney Griner, a senior US diplomat said.
Elizabeth Rood, the US chargée d’affaires in Moscow, told Russia’s state-owned RIA news agency that talks about freeing Griner – who was sentenced to nine years in a penal colony on charges of possessing and smuggling drugs – were ongoing. But Rood said Russia was yet to seriously engage.
“The United States, as we have said, has put a significant proposal on the table,” Rood said. “We have followed up on that proposal and we have proposed alternatives.
“Unfortunately, so far the Russian Federation has not provided a serious response to those proposals.”
Reuters reported that the proposals also included a deal to free Paul Whelan, a former US marine who is serving 16 years in prison in Russia on charges of espionage, which he denies.
Russia’s deputy foreign minister, Sergei Ryabkov, said on 18 November that he was hopeful of agreeing a prisoner swap that could see the release of Viktor Bout, a convicted Russian weapons trafficker who is in prison in the US.
But CNN reported in July that the Joe Biden White House had already offered to exchange Bout for Griner and Whelan.
Griner, 32, is a two-time Olympic gold medalist and champion with the NCAA’s Baylor University as well as the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury. She was arrested on 17 February, a week before Russia sent troops into Ukraine , at a Moscow airport with vape cartridges containing cannabis oil, which is banned in Russia.
Griner got her nine-year prison sentence after pleading guilty to charges of possessing and smuggling drugs but said she had made an “honest mistake” and had not meant to break the law.
On 17 November, Griner’s lawyers said she had been transferred to the IK-2 penal colony in Mordovia to start her sentence. Whelan is being held in a separate facility in Mordovia.
Olga Zeveleva, a sociologist at the University of Helsinki who specialises in Russian prison conditions as part of the Gulag Echoes project, told the Guardian conditions in Mordovia facilities are “notoriously terrible, even by Russian standards”.