Biden expects Russia to take Greener prisoner swap more seriously

  • The NBA star was removed from a detention facility near Moscow on November 11. 4
  • Griner faces 9 years in prison on drug charges
  • Lawyer does not know her location or destination

WASHINGTON, Nov 9 (Reuters) – U.S. President Joe Biden said on Wednesday he expected Russian President Vladimir Putin to be willing to discuss a potential prisoner swap with Washington more seriously to secure U.S. basketball stars Britney Greenner released.

“My hope is that now that the election is over, Mr. Putin will be able to discuss with us and be willing to talk more seriously about prisoner swaps,” Biden told reporters at a news conference.

“My intention is to get her home,” he added.

Biden’s Democrats performed better than expected in November. Eight midterm elections, Republicans appear to have failed to achieve the sweeping “red wave” victory they seek.

The Biden administration in late July proposed a prisoner swap with Russia to secure the release of Greener and former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, also held there, but said Moscow has yet to respond positively.

Greener, 32, a star for the National Women’s Basketball Association’s Phoenix Mercury team, was arrested on February 2. 17. The Russian invasion of Ukraine on 24 February and the subsequent deterioration in relations between Washington and Moscow complicated the talks.

The two-time Olympic gold medalist was arrested at a Moscow airport when a pod containing cannabis oil, banned in Russia, was found in her luggage.

She was sentenced in August. Imprisoned for 4 to 9 years for possession and smuggling of drugs. She has pleaded guilty but said she made an “honest mistake” and did not mean to break the law.

Last week, Russian authorities moved Grina from a detention center outside Moscow and she is now on her way to a clandestine place of exile, her legal team said Wednesday. The move drew the ire of the Biden administration.

U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said in a statement that Greener was being moved to a “remote penal colony” and that the United States wanted Russian authorities to allow its embassy officials access to Greener and other Americans detained in Russia.

“Never-ending nightmare”

American basketball player Brittney Griner appears on a screen in a detention center via video link before a court hearing to consider an appeal against her jail sentence in Krasnogorsk, Russia, October 25, 2022. REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina

In a statement, the WNBA said the move “shattered” it, calling it a “horrific, seemingly never-ending nightmare,” adding that “the lack of clarity and transparency in the process has exacerbated the pain.”

Her current location and final destination are unknown, her legal team said, adding that, in accordance with Russian procedures, her lawyers and the U.S. embassy should be notified when she arrives, but it will take up to two weeks . .

Russia did not notify the U.S. that Greener was being transferred, according to a senior State Department official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Reuters has asked the Russian Federal Prison Service for comment on where Greener was taken and where she is now.

Moving to exile can be time-consuming as hordes of prisoners gather and move to different locations in the world’s largest country.

Russia declined to comment on the status of the talks, saying such diplomacy should not be done in public.

White House spokeswoman Karina Jean-Pierre said: “Despite the lack of good-faith negotiations by the Russians, the U.S. administration continues to follow up on this proposal and engage the Russians with alternative potential ways forward through all available channels.”

The senior State Department official added that discussions on the proposed swap were “not a static process.”

After a Russian court on Oct. 15 dismissed an unsuccessful appeal, Greener’s lawyers have not said whether they will try to further appeal her conviction. 25.

Prisoners in Russian penal colonies face arduous manual labor, poor sanitation and a harsh system that lacks adequate medical care.

“Our primary concern remains BG’s health and well-being,” Griner’s agent Lindsay Colas said in a separate statement, identifying the player by her initials.

“As we go through this very difficult phase, not knowing where BG is or what she is doing, we ask for public support to continue to write and express their love and concern for her,” Colas said.

Additional reporting by Steve Holland, Mark Trevelyan, Filipp Lebedev, Doina Chiacu and Susan Heavey; Editing by Andrew Osborn, Paul Simao, Jonathan Oatis and David Gregorio

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