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US Embassy officials visit Brittney Griner in Russian prison

WASHINGTON (AP) — Officials from the U.S. Embassy in Moscow visited imprisoned WNBA star Brittney Griner on Thursday, more than a week after a Russian court denied her appeal of her jail sentence. nine years for drug possession.

State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a tweet that US officials “saw firsthand his tenacity and perseverance despite his current situation.”

Price said the Biden administration continues to push for the immediate release of Griner and Paul Whelan, who were sentenced in 2020 to 16 years in prison in Russia on espionage-related charges he and his family say are false, and “fair treatment for every American detained.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Griner is “doing as well as expected under the circumstances” and that the administration is working “to resolve the current unacceptable and unwarranted detentions” of Griner and Whelan.

Griner was convicted in August after police said they found vaping cartridges containing cannabis oil in her luggage at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport. His arrest in February came at a time of heightened tensions between Moscow and Washington, just days before Russia sent troops to Ukraine. Around this time, Griner was returning to play for a Russian team during the WNBA offseason.

She admitted at trial to having the canisters in her luggage, but testified that she had inadvertently packed them in her haste to catch her flight and had no criminal intent. His lawyers called the sentence excessive.

The United States views Griner and Whelan as wrongful detainees and has been trying to negotiate with Russia for their release for months. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said over the summer that the United States had made a “substantial offer” to Russia to try to secure their release, and President Joe Biden told those close to Griner and Whelan at a meeting at the White House in September that his administration was engaged. to bring them home.

People familiar with the offer said the United States had offered to release convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout for Griner and Whelan.

There have been no outward signs of progress since then in the negotiations.

Jean-Pierre told reporters traveling with the president in New Mexico that “despite a lack of good faith negotiation on the part of the Russians, the U.S. government has continued to follow up on this offer and offer other potential avenues with Russia through all available channels. This continues to be a top priority.

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