The difficulties involved in freeing Brittney Griner from her imprisonment in Russia were brought into stark relief this weekend when a senior aide to Vladimir Putin said the issue is not a priority for the Russian president.
In August, the basketball star was given a nine-year prison sentence for bringing a small amount of cannabis oil into Russia. The 31-year-old said she uses the drug to treat pain and has lodged an appeal against her sentence.
Joe Biden’s administration said in July that it had made a “substantial proposal” to bring home Griner and Paul Whelan, another American imprisoned in Russia. The administration has not provided specifics about its proposal, but according to multiple reports, it had offered to release Viktor Bout, a convicted Russian arms dealer imprisoned in the US.
However on Sunday, Yury Ushakov, an aide to Putin, said Biden was most concerned about good publicity as the US midterm elections approach.
“In this tense situation, I think that he is thinking first and foremost about the upcoming midterm elections so he keeps emphasizing the need to bring back home the basketball player who was detained for drug smuggling. However, it’s not the main issue that we are concerned about,” Ushakov said in an interview with Rossiya-1.
Biden said last week that he would talk to Putin at the upcoming G20 summit if it concerns Griner.
“Look, I have no intention of meeting with him,” said Biden. “But, for example, if he came to me at the G20 and said, ‘I want to talk about the release of Griner,’ I would meet with him.”
Earlier this month Griner’s wife, Cherelle, said the double Olympic champion is afraid of being forgotten by the US. She told CBS Mornings that her wife, who was playing in Russia during the WNBA offseason, also fears being moved to a labor camp.
“She’s very afraid about being left and forgotten in Russia,” Cherelle Griner said. She said Brittney told her in a phone call that she felt “like my life just doesn’t matter.”