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White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre recently announced President Joe Biden “has no intention” of meeting with Russian leader Vladimir Putin until he is willing to discuss the release of WNBA star Brittney Griner.
“The Russians need to take the serious offer that we put forward on the table, or make a serious counter-offer to negotiate, but in good faith.”
In addition to Jean-Pierre's statement, Biden told CNN's Jake Tapper he had no intention of meeting with Putin. “But for example, if he came to me at the G-20 and said, ‘I want to talk about the release of Griner,’ I’d meet with him. I mean, it would depend,” Biden said.
In response to Biden's comment Yuri Ushakov, an advisor to Putin took to the state-run TV program "Moscow.Kremlin.Putin.," saying Griner's release was “not the main issue we are concerned about,” Ushakov said.
"In this tense situation, I think that he (Biden) is thinking first and foremost about the upcoming midterm elections."
In exchange for Griner’s release, The Biden Administration offered to free Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer who is currently serving a 25-year prison sentence in the United States.
In addition to Griner’s release the administration also called for the release of Paul Whelan, an American citizen who has detained in 2018 for accusations of espionage.
Griner has been in Russian custody since February 17, following her arrest at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport where she was accused of “large-scale transportation of drugs” due to vape cartridges found in her luggage.
During her first court hearing on July 7, Griner pleaded guilty to charges. “I was in a rush packing and the cartridges accidentally ended up in my bag,” Griner said. “I’d like to plead guilty, your honor. But there was no intent. I didn’t want to break the law.”
August 4, a Russian court sentenced Griner to 9 years in prison for drug possession and smuggling and ordered will also have to pay a fine of 1 million rubles ($16,590).
Griner's sentence evoked negative reactions from the public and U.S politicians.
"Today, American citizen Brittney Griner received a prison sentence that is one more reminder of what the world already knew: Russia is wrongfully detaining Brittney," Biden said in a statement. "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 continued.
Vice President Kamala Harris shared her thoughts on the verdict via Twitter saying, “With today’s sentencing, Russia continues its wrongful detention of Brittney Griner. She should be released immediately. @POTUS and I, and our entire Administration, are working every day to reunite Brittney, as well as Paul Whelan, with loved ones who miss each of them dearly.”
Speaker Nancy Pelosi called Griner's sentence unjust and a violation of the rule of law by Putin.
“Every day that Brittney Griner remains in detention is a reminder of Putin’s contempt for human rights, human dignity, and the law," Pelosi said.
“Congress supports and stands with President Biden in making the release of Brittney Griner a priority, and our prayers are with Brittney’s wife, Cherelle, and their entire family. We will continue to support the Administration as it works to bring her, Paul Whelan, and others unjustly detained in Russia and around the world home to their country and their loved ones.”
Griner is currently being held at Moscow-area prison, and is expected to appear in Russian court to appeal her conviction October 25.