President Biden on Thursday called on Russia to release WNBA star Brittney Griner immediately, condemning a newly announced nine-year prison sentence for Griner as “unacceptable.”
“Today, American citizen Brittney Griner received a prison sentence that is one more reminder of what the world already knew: Russia is wrongfully detaining Brittney,” Biden said in a statement. “It’s unacceptable, and I call on Russia to release her immediately so she can be with her wife, loved ones, friends, and teammates.”
Biden said his administration would continue its efforts to bring Griner and Paul Whelan, another American detained in Russia, back to the United States “as soon as possible.” White House officials have said they are in regular contact with Griner’s family.
A judge in Russia on Thursday sentenced Griner to nine years in prison on charges that she illegally brought drugs into the country.
Griner, a star in the WNBA and an Olympic gold medalist, was detained for bringing vape cartridges with hashish oil into Russia in February. Griner pleaded guilty earlier this month, but she has insisted she did not intend to break the law.
While Griner’s case has had a higher profile, it has also rekindled interest in the detention of Whelan, who has been held in Russia since 2018 on spying charges that he vehemently denies. He has been sentenced to 16 years in prison.
The Biden administration had previously floated a potential prisoner swap in which Griner and Whelan would be released in exchange for convicted Russian arms trafficker Viktor Bout.