Russia Failing to 'Seriously Negotiate' Brittney Griner's Release, State Dept. Says

Mike Chiari@@mikechiariFeatured Columnist IVNovember 18, 2022

US' Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA) basketball player Brittney Griner, who was detained at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport and later charged with illegal possession of cannabis, waits for the verdict inside a defendants' cage during a hearing in Khimki outside Moscow, on August 4, 2022. - A Russian court found Griner guilty of smuggling and storing narcotics after prosecutors requested a sentence of nine and a half years in jail for the athlete. (Photo by EVGENIA NOVOZHENINA / POOL / AFP) (Photo by EVGENIA NOVOZHENINA/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

A spokesperson for the U.S. State Department said Friday in a statement that Russia has not yet been serious in its negotiations for a prisoner swap involving WNBA star Brittney Griner.

According to ESPN's T.J. Quinn, the State Department statement downplayed an earlier statement released by Russian deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov:

"We are not going to comment on the specifics of any proposals other than to say that we have made a substantial offer that the Russian Federation has consistently failed to negotiate in good faith. The U.S. Government has continued to follow up on that offer and propose alternative potential ways forward with the Russian government. The Russian government's failure to seriously negotiate on these issues in the established channel, or any other channel for that matter runs counter to its public statements."

Ryabkov released a statement regarding Russia's attempt to negotiate the return of convicted arms dealer Viktor Bout, who is currently serving a 25-year prison sentence in the United States: "We haven't found common ground yet, but, undoubtedly, Viktor Bout is among those being discussed and obviously we are hoping for a positive result. The Americans are showing certain activity and we are working on this through appropriate channels."

Since the U.S. has made attempts to bring Griner home through a prisoner swap, Ryabkov's statement led to assumptions that progress was potentially being made on that front.

Griner has been in Russian custody for 274 days after she was found to be in possession of vape cartridges containing hashish oil in an airport near Moscow on Feb 17.

She pleaded guilty to drug smuggling charges and was sentenced to nine years in prison. The sentence was upheld upon appeal, and Griner was transferred from a jail in Moscow to a Russian penal colony 210 miles east of Moscow this month.

The United States declared that Griner was being wrongfully detained in Russia three months after her arrest but has thus far been unsuccessful in negotiating her release.

Per ESPN, U.S. President Joe Biden said this week that his "hope" is Russian President Vladimir Putin will be more willing to "talk more seriously" about a prisoner exchange involving Griner now that the United States midterm elections are over.