He says he has made it a priority. US President Joe Biden has called the wife of Brittney Griner, an American women’s basketball star who is being held in Russia, and pledged to secure her release as soon as possible. “The President has called Cherelle [Griner] to reassure her that he is working to secure Brittney’s release as quickly as possible,” the White House announced Wednesday, July 6 in a statement. During this call, the president also read to Cherelle Griner a draft letter that he plans to send to the two-time Olympic gold medalist (2016, 2020).

Cannabis vapes and e-liquid

Brittney Griner is to be tried in Russia for drug trafficking and smuggling. The Phoenix Mercury player was arrested at Moscow airport on February 17 after “vapes” and “a liquid with a peculiar smell” of cannabis oil were found in her hand luggage, according to the federal service Russian customs.

She came to Russia to play there during the American off-season, a common practice for basketball players in the Women’s National Basketball Association, the American professional women’s basketball league, who sometimes earn a better living abroad than at home. She faces up to ten years in prison. She appeared on July 1 in court near Moscow for her trial, which was eventually adjourned to Thursday July 7.

The case is politically very sensitive, at a time when relations are at their worst between the United States and Russia, because of the invasion of Ukraine by the latter.

Letter delivered July 4 to the White House

“Sitting here in a Russian prison, alone with my thoughts and without the protection of my wife, my family, my friends, my Olympic jersey or anything I’ve accomplished, I’m terrified of ‘be here forever,’ the champion wrote in a letter symbolically delivered to the White House on July 4, US Independence Day. “I know very well that you have to deal with a lot of things, but please don’t forget me and the other American prisoners,” the basketball player wrote.

Brittney Griner’s teammates lamented the lack of attention, especially from the media. “The outrage is not strong enough,” Brianna Turner said on the sidelines of a game against the Los Angeles Sparks. “If it was [NBA star] LeBron James or [American football legend] Tom Brady, it would be in the headlines every day,” Sophie Cunningham, another player, criticized.

On Tuesday, Karine Jean-Pierre, spokesperson for the American president, was questioned about this letter. She said, laconically, “The president read the letter. This subject is a priority for the President (…). He’s doing everything he can.” Karine Jean-Pierre also added that several senior officials were in regular contact with the family of the champion.

Prisoner exchanges

“We want to end this practice, whether in Russia or any other country, of unlawfully detaining Americans or foreign nationals for political gain,” department spokesman Ned Price said Tuesday. of state.

Asked about criticism from Brittney Griner’s family or teammates about the mobilization, he assured that the Biden administration did not want to “do or say anything that could jeopardize” the chances of a release. “We of course understand the families’ desire to bring as much attention to their belongings as possible,” Ned Price said.

In May, Washington said Russia was “unfairly” detaining the 31-year-old star. His case is now in the hands, on the American side, of the special envoy of the United States in charge of those taken hostage.

Americans and Russians accuse each other of detaining their respective nationals for political purposes. Several prisoner exchanges have taken place in the past. In April, former US Marine Trevor Reed, sentenced to nine years in prison in Russia for violence, was exchanged for a Russian pilot, Konstantin Yaroshenko, imprisoned in the United States since 2010 for drug trafficking.

Other exchanges of this type would be the subject of talks. Among the names most mentioned are that of Paul Whelan, an American sentenced to sixteen years in prison for espionage and who claims his innocence, and the famous Russian arms trafficker Viktor Bout, arrested in Thailand in 2008 and who is serving a sentence of twenty-five years in prison in the United States.