Putin aide warns freeing weed-smuggler WNBA player Brittney Griner from Russian prison ‘is NOT a priority for us,’ and claims Biden only wants athlete released to make him look good ahead of midterm elections
- Yury Ushakov, an advisor to Putin and former Russian ambassador to the US, believes Biden wants to boost his grim-looking midterm election prospects
- ‘However, it’s not the main issue that we are concerned about,’ Ushakov told Russian TV on Sunday
- Griner, 31, a two-time Olympic basketball gold medalist, was sentenced to nine years in a Russian prison on August 4 after pleading guilty to drug charges
- The Kremlin aide’s comments come days after Griner’s lawyer, Alexandr D. Boykov, said in an interview his client is struggling in prison
An aide to Vladimir Putin has said freeing WNBA star Brittney Griner from prison ‘is not a priority’ for the Kremlin.
The 31-year-old, a two-time Olympic basketball gold medalist, was arrested in February after she was allegedly caught carrying two vape cartridges containing cannabis oil at a Moscow airport by a police dog.
She was sentenced to nine years in a Russian prison on August 4 after pleading guilty.
Yury Ushakov, an advisor to Putin who spent a decade as Russia’s ambassador to the United States between 1998 and 2008, believes Joe Biden merely wants to boost his grim-looking midterm election prospects.
Ushakov told Rossiya-1 on Sunday: ‘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.’
The Kremlin aide’s comments come days after Griner’s lawyer, Alexandr D. Boykov, said in an interview with the New York Times that his client is struggling in prison.
An aide to Russian Premier Vladimir Putin says that freeing WNBA and Olympic star Brittney Griner from being imprisoned on drug charges ‘is not a priority’ for the Kremlin
Yury Ushakov, an advisor to Putin who spent a decade as Russia’s ambassador to the United States between 1998 and 2008, believes President Joe Biden merely wants to boost his grim-looking midterm election prospects
U.S. President Joe Biden, asked if he would meet Putin at the G20 summit in Bali in November, said he didn’t see a good reason for a sit-down with the Kremlin chief but has said he would listen if he wanted to discuss Griner
The Kremlin aide’s comments come days after Griner’s lawyer, Alexandr D. Boykov, said in an interview with the New York Times that his client is struggling in prison
This is the moment Griner was apprehended by a police sniffer dog at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport in February
Griner was seen putting her belongings through a scanner at the travel hub
Griner, who plays for Phoenix Mercury, has been held in a Russian prison since February
Boykov described Griner saying: ‘She has not been in as good condition as I could sometimes find her in.’ According to the lawyer, Griner is reading a book about the Rolling Stones, Dostoyevsky’s book Demons and regularly plays a game that’s similar to Battleship.’
He said that Griner is forced to sleep in a bed that has been modified to accommodate her height.
Her attorney continued: ‘She is not yet absolutely convinced that America will be able to take her home. She is very worried about what the price of that will be, and she is afraid that she will have to serve the whole sentence here in Russia.’
Boykov said that he last spoke to Griner on October 11. He said that she is worried about the conditions she will face in a new prison following her appeal.
He added: ‘Perhaps the verdict will somehow be changed and, perhaps, the sentence will be reduced, because the decision taken by the first court is very different from judicial practice.’
‘Considering all the circumstances, taking into account my client’s personality traits and her admission of guilt, such a verdict should be absolutely impossible,’ the lawyer continued.
Boykov described IK-1 Boykov described IK-1 as being too cold in the winter and too warm in the summer
The last high-profile prisoner to spend time at IK-1 was Naama Issachar, an Israeli-American who was sentenced to ten years when a third of an ounce was found in her luggage at a Moscow airport
Boykov said that it has been nearly impossible for Griner to speak to friends and family and that even organizing phone calls with the WNBA star’s wife, Cherelle, was difficult.
He described the prison as being too cold in the winter and too warm in the summer.
The last high-profile prisoner to spend time at IK-1 was Naama Issachar, an Israeli-American who was sentenced to ten years when a third of an ounce was found in her luggage at a Moscow airport.
She was initially charged with drug possession, which typically carries a one-month sentence in Russia, but that was later upgraded to drug smuggling and she was jailed for seven and a half years.
Putin later pardoned Issachar in a move that was a seen as a political coup for then Israeli- Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Issachar was quoted as once saying that the clouds were the only part of the outside world that inmates can see from the prison.
Most of Russia’s prisons are collective colonies, a system dating back to the Soviet Gulag era, with inmates sleeping in dormitories and working in production facilities.
A Radio Free Europe investigation from 2019 identified a different prison known as IK-14 as the ‘most dreaded female correctional facility’ in Russia.
Russian President Vladimir Putin ‘is satisfied with such prisons….He wants to have a frightening instrument in his hands. You need to have a place where everyone is afraid to go,’ Olga Romanova, head of the prisoners’ rights group Rus Sidyashchaya (Russia Behind Bars), said.
U.S. President Joe Biden, asked if he would meet Putin at the G20 summit in Bali in November, said he didn’t see a good reason for a sit-down with the Kremlin chief.
‘It would depend on specifically what he wanted to talk about,’ Biden told CNN, adding that if Putin wanted to discuss the jailed American basketball star Brittney Griner then he would be open to talking.
‘I don’t see any rationale to meet with him now,’ Biden said.
While the Kremlin has stayed coy on whether or not Putin would attend the summit at all.
Earlier this month, Cherelle Griner told CBS Mornings that she has only spoken to her wife twice since February. She called one of those phone calls ‘the most disturbing phone call I’d ever experienced.’
US citizen Paul Whelan is seen in June 2020 protesting about the conditions of his imprisonment
Former US Ambassador to the United Nations is considered a key figure in the negotiations to bring Griner home
Former US Ambassador to the United States, Bill Richardson, visited Russia three weeks ago to assist in the negotiations, and now says he’s confident a deal will be reached to bring Griner and former US Marine Paul Whelan home soon.
Richardson was responsible in part for the release of Marine Trevor Reed from a Russian prison in April.
Speaking with CNN on Sunday, he said he’d met with senior Russian officials and individuals close to Russian President Vladimir Putin during his trip, though his visit was not on behalf of the United States.
‘I am cautiously optimistic on the Griner (and) Whelan negotiations,’ said Richardson, who is also former governor of New Mexico and who has worked privately to secure the release of American detainees abroad.
Cherelle Griner (pictured) spoke to CBS News earlier this month. This is the first time she has addressed the media since her wife, Brittney, was convicted of drug possession charges in Russia
Griner was arrested on suspicion of drug possession at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport on February 17
The US Government has reportedly offered convicted arms dealer Viktor Bout, who faces a 25-year sentence, for Griner and Paul Whelan, who is serving a 16-year sentence for espionage in Russia
The White House has not confirmed which Russian prisoners they would be swapped with. Previously, officials had been working to negotiate a deal with to release Merchant of Death arms dealer Viktor Bout.
Richardson added that he thought an exchange of detainees would include two Russians in exchange for the two Americans. He did not identify the Russians or give an exact time frame.
Asked if the two Americans might be released by the end of the year, he said: ‘I do think so. Now, I hate making predictions, but yes.
Whelan, who holds American, British, Canadian and Irish passports, was sentenced in 2020 to 16 years in jail after being convicted of spying. He denied the charge.
The United States said in late July that it had put forward a ‘substantial offer’ to secure the release of the two Americans. Sources familiar with the situation said Washington has offered to exchange Russian arms trafficker Viktor Bout for Griner and Whelan.
Reports have surfaced that Moscow has sought the release of a second Russian, but Washington has not confirmed further details on its exact offer.
Negotiations are taking place amid ruptured relations between the two countries after Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine, which has sparked a U.S.-led effort to punish Moscow with sanctions and isolate it diplomatically.
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