Russia has no plans to release Brittney Griner anytime soon, according to a statement made by a Russian official on state-run television Sunday.
“In this tense situation, I think that he [President Biden] is thinking first and foremost about the upcoming midterm elections,” said Yury Ushakov, an aide to Russian President Vladimir Putin, with regards to Biden’s efforts to secure Griner’s release. “He keeps emphasizing the need to bring [Griner] back home […] however, it’s not the main issue that we are concerned about,” USA Today reports.
Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medalist and star basketball player, had been detained in Russia in February after cannabis paraphernalia had allegedly been found in her luggage.
She was found guilty in a Russian court this past July and sentenced to nine and a half years in prison.
Prior to the verdict, the U.S. State Department classified Griner as “wrongfully detained,” meaning that it believed the drug charges were unrelated to her detainment. Griner’s high profile, and her arrest near the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, caused speculation that her detainment was a political act, and that Russia was using Griner as a bargaining chip.
In an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper earlier this month, Biden had said that while he has no plans to meet with Putin at the upcoming G20 summit in Bali, Indonesia, he would be willing to meet to discuss Griner’s release.
Biden met with Griner’s wife, Cherelle, and Elizabeth Whelan, the sister of Paul Whelan, another American who is also currently detained in Russia, back in September.
“The President held the meetings to reiterate his continued commitment to working through all available avenues to bring Brittney and Paul home safely,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre later told reporters.
“We all admire the courage of the Whelan and Griner families in the face of these unimaginable circumstances, and we remain committed to reuniting them with their loved ones,” she said.