Russian diplomat criticizes Biden ‘hype’ over Brittney Griner as the W.N.B.A. star’s trial resumes.
A top Russian diplomat lashed out at the Biden administration on Thursday for trying to “foment hype” around the case of the detained American basketball star Brittney Griner, hours before her trial was expected to resume in a court near Moscow.
The diplomat, Sergei A. Ryabkov, the deputy foreign minister, said that the publicity around Ms. Griner’s case — American officials say she is essentially a hostage taken by President Vladimir V. Putin amid the war in Ukraine — was not helping her interests.
Mr. Ryabkov indicated that Moscow would be prepared to negotiate her fate, but only after the court reached a verdict on the drug charges that were brought against her. She has been detained in Russia since Feb. 17, accused by the Russian authorities of having a vape cartridge with hashish oil in her luggage at an airport near Moscow.
“We have a long-established form of discussing these matters,” Mr. Ryabkov told reporters on Thursday in Moscow, according to the Interfax news agency. “The American side’s attempts to foment hype and make noise in the public environment are understandable, but they don’t help to practically resolve issues.”
If Ms. Griner is convicted, she faces up to 10 years in a Russian penal colony.
After her trial began last week, she sent a handwritten letter to Mr. Biden asking him not to “forget about” her and other American detainees overseas.
Mr. Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris spoke on Wednesday with Ms. Griner’s wife, Cherelle Griner, according to a statement released by the White House.
During the call, the statement said, the president read a draft of a letter that he planned to send to Brittney Griner. He also said that his administration was pursuing “every avenue to bring Brittney home.”
Cherelle Griner has publicly expressed frustration with Mr. Biden and his administration’s efforts to secure her wife’s release.
In a statement to The New York Times on Wednesday, Cherelle Griner said she was grateful to Mr. Biden and Ms. Harris “for the time they spent with me and for the commitment they expressed to getting B.G. home.”
The United States government has classified Brittney Griner as “wrongfully detained” and is working to secure her release regardless of the outcome of the trial. While the Kremlin claims it has no involvement in Ms. Griner’s case, Russian state media reports have indicated that Moscow may press the United States to free a Russian in American custody — like the convicted arms dealer Viktor Bout — in exchange for her freedom.
What to Know About Brittney Griner’s Detention in Russia
What happened? In February, Russian authorities detained Brittney Griner, an American basketball player, on drug charges, after she was stopped at an airport near Moscow. Since then, her detention has been repeatedly extended. Ms. Griner’s trial began on July 1.
Why was she detained? Officials in Russia said they detained Ms. Griner after finding vape cartridges that contained hashish oil in her luggage. The officials said a criminal case has been opened into the large-scale transportation of drugs, which can carry a sentence of up to 10 years.
Why was she in Russia? Griner was in Russia playing for an international team during the W.N.B.A. off-season. Trading rest for overseas competition is common among the league’s players for many reasons, but often the biggest motivation is money.
Does this have anything to do with Ukraine? Ms. Griner’s detention comes during an inflamed standoff between Russia and the United States over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but it is still unclear whether Russia might have targeted Ms. Griner as leverage against the United States.
How is the United States approaching the situation? U.S. officials have seen Ms. Griner and said that she was “wrongfully detained,” adding that the government was working aggressively to bring her home. Two days after Ms. Griner sent a handwritten letter to President Biden asking him not to forget about her, President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris spoke with Cherelle Griner, the W.N.B.A. star’s wife, who had questioned whether the Biden administration is doing enough to bring her spouse home.
What are the possible outcomes? Legal experts are all but certain that the trial will end in a conviction. But the Kremlin might be also interested in a prisoner’s swap that would tie her fate to that of the Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, who is serving a prison sentence in the United States.
Mr. Ryabkov said that until the conclusion of Ms. Griner’s case, “there are no formal procedural grounds” to discuss further steps. He hinted, however, that Moscow was interested in negotiating over her fate, claiming that she would be helped by “a serious reading by the American side of the signals that they received from Russia, from Moscow, through specialized channels.”
He did not specify what those signals were, but insisted that talks on Ms. Griner’s fate should take place out of the public eye, according to Russian news reports.
“Hype and publicity, for all the love for this genre among modern politicians, only gets in the way in this particular instance,” Mr. Ryabkov said, according to the RIA Novosti news agency. “This does not just distract from the case, but creates interference in the truest sense of the word. That’s why silence is needed here.”