President Biden calls on Russia to release Brittney Griner immediately after the WNBA star was sentenced to 9 years in prison

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President Joe Biden speaks to reporters in the Oval Office of the White House on May 9, 2022.Drew Angerer/Getty Images
  • President Joe Biden called on Russia to immediately release WNBA star Brittney Griner from prison.

  • Griner was sentenced to nine years in prison Thursday after she was found guilty on drug charges.

  • Biden has proposed a prisoner swap to free Griner early, but Russia has yet to officially respond.

President Joe Biden called on Russia to "release her immediately" after Brittney Griner was sentenced to nine years in a Russian prison.

"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 shared Thursday, moments after a Russian judge handed down her sentence.

"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.

The WNBA superstar and two-time Olympic gold medalist was found guilty of drug-smuggling charges after customs agents at a Moscow airport found vape cartridges containing hashish oil in her luggage back in February. She has been detained ever since.

Brittney Griner.
Brittney Griner stands in a Russian jail cell.Evgenia Novozhenina/Pool/Reuters

Earlier Thursday, prosecutors recommended a nine-and-a-half-year sentence for Griner, who faced up to 10 years in prison. Griner had pleaded guilty to the charges against her early on in the trial — which began four months after her initial arrest — and her legal team appealed for leniency throughout the July proceedings.

Legal expert Aron Solomon, who acts as the Head of Strategy for Esquire Digital, told Insider that Biden's near-instant statement was unsurprising, as "he knew this [verdict] was coming."

"If we look at the totality of this case so far as a chess match, it was a move cause by the other player's move," Solomon said of Biden's words. "It doesn't do anything in itself, but not calling for Griner's immediate release would have again left the administration open to a valid argument that they aren't moving quickly enough."

Brittney Griner.
Griner speaks with her attorneys from a holding cell in a Russian courtroom.REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina/Pool

Last week, news broke that the Biden Administration offered to swap convicted arms dealer Viktor Bout in exchange for the early release of both Griner and Paul Whelan, another American detainee in Russia.

Biden alluded to such a deal in his statement Thursday.

"My administration will continue to work tirelessly and pursue every possible avenue to bring Brittney and Paul Whelan home safely as soon as possible," he said.

American detainee Paul Whelan holds a sign ahead of a hearing in Moscow.
American detainee Paul Whelan holds a sign ahead of a hearing in Moscow.REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

Russia has yet to officially respond to the White House's proposal but has suggested that they are interested in the swap if the US helps to free an additional convict — a Russian national who was tried, sentenced, and imprisoned for murder in Germany.

John Kirby, the Biden administration's National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications, slammed Russia's counter as "a bad faith attempt to avoid a very serious offer and proposal that the United States has put forward."

Brittney Griner
Griner leaves the courtroom in Russia after speaking during closing arguments of her drug-smuggling trial.AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko

Moscow officials fired back that "loudspeaker diplomacy" wouldn't succeed in bringing the detained Americans home, signaling that the US and Russia were still quite far from agreeing to a deal.

But with mounting pressure on the administration to bring the eight-time WNBA All-Star home, the White House and US State Department will almost certainly face increasing urgency to act as Griner potentially heads to a penal colony.

Read the original article on Insider