A former Russian ambassador to Washington has claimed that President Biden is desperate to secure Brittney Griner’s release to get a boost in next month’s midterm elections — but the WNBA star’s plight is not a priority for the Kremlin.
“In this tense situation, the way I see it, [Biden] thinks first and foremost about the upcoming midterm elections, which is why he keeps bringing up the need to return the basketball player who was arrested for delivering drugs,” said Yuri Ushakov during an interview that aired Sunday on the state-run Rossiya-1 channel, according to TASS.
“But this is not the most important issue that concerns us,” he added.
Ushakov served as Russia’s ambassador to the US from 1998 until 2008. Since 2012, he has been an advisor to Russian President Vladimir Putin on foreign policy issues.
Ushakov’s comments about Griner came ahead of her Oct. 25 appeal hearing, during which the two-time Olympic champion will attempt to have her nine-year sentence for drug possession thrown out.
Griner, 31, was convicted in August after police said they found vape cartridges containing cannabis oil in her luggage at Moscow’s main airport.
The Phoenix Mercury center admitted at trial that she had the cannisters, but testified that she had accidentally packed them and had no intent to break Russia’s laws.
Griner has been languishing in jail since her arrest just days before Russian forces invaded Ukraine.
The Biden administration has been under growing pressure to bring Griner home amid escalating tensions with the Kremlin.
In July, Secretary of State Antony Blinken took the unusual step of revealing publicly that Washington had made a “substantial proposal” to get Griner home along with Paul Whelan, an American serving a 16-year sentence in Russia for espionage.
Blinken didn’t elaborate, but reports indicate that the US has offered to exchange Griner and Whelan for Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer dubbed the “Merchant of Death” who is serving a 25-year sentence in the US.
The White House said it has not yet received a productive response from Russia to the offer.
Russian diplomats have refused to comment on the US proposal and urged Washington to discuss the matter in confidential talks, avoiding public statements.
Biden met last month with Cherelle Griner, Brittney’s wife, and also sat down separately with Elizabeth Whelan, Paul Whelan’s sister.
The White House said after the meetings that the president stressed to the families his “continued commitment to working through all available avenues to bring Brittney and Paul home safely.”
In a recent interview on “CBS Mornings,” Cherelle Griner said that her incarcerated wife is afraid of being forgotten by her country.
“She’s very afraid about being left and forgotten in Russia, or just completely used to the point of her detriment,” Cherelle Griner said.
She recalled Brittney Griner told her in a phone call that she felt “like my life just doesn’t matter.”
Griner’s lawyer Alexander Boykov told the New York Times that “she is not yet absolutely convinced that America will be able to take her home.”
Emotionally, Boyokov said Griner is not doing well in prison and fears she would be moved to another lockup where she would be mistreated.
Biden said last week that he had no intention of meeting Putin at next month’s Group of 20 summit in Indonesia, but would consider doing so if the Russian leader wanted to discuss Griner’s release.
“The Russians need to take the serious offer that we put forward on the table, or make a serious counter-offer to negotiate, but in good faith,” White House Press Secretary Karen Jean-Pierre said last week.
With Post Wires