President Joe Biden said during an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper that although he has no plans to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin, he would do so for the purpose of discussing the status of lesbian WNBA star Brittney Griner, who has been jailed in Russia since February on trumped-up drug charges.
“Look, I have no intention of meeting with him,” Biden said. “But for example, if he came to me at the G-20 and said, ‘I want to talk about the release of Griner,’ I’d meet with him. I mean, it would depend.”
Griner, who was sentenced to a decade in prison after Russian authorities accused her of bringing small amounts of cannabis vape cartridges into the country, has emerged as a key player surrounding the deteriorating diplomatic relations between Washington and Moscow. Biden has faced significant pressure to bring Griner back to the United States, prompting the administration to move the case to the purview of its special presidential envoy for hostage affairs. The United States has declared that Griner is “wrongfully detained.”
Griner was arrested at a Moscow airport on February 17 — days before Russia launched a large-scale invasion of Ukraine — as she was returning to Russia to play professional basketball in the off-season. The two-time Olympic champion and eight-time all-star was sentenced to nine years in prison on August 4.
In August, Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke by phone with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and pitched a swap involving Griner and Paul Whelan, an American behind bars in Russia for espionage charges. News reports have indicated that the United States is willing to hand over Russian arms trader Viktor Bout in exchange for Griner and Whelan, but no significant developments have emerged as of late. The Russians have frequently called for negotiations to remain private.
Griner is appealing her sentence. A Russian court will hear her appeal on October 25.