US president reiterates that he would "work tirelessly and pursue every possible avenue" to repatriate Brittney Griner and another detained American in Russian, Paul Whelan.
A Russian court has sentenced US basketball star Brittney Griner to nine years in prison after she was found guilty of smuggling and storing narcotics.
Griner will spend a "total of nine years" in a Russian penal colony", judge Anna Sotnikova told the court, adding that the 31-year-old athlete will also have to pay a fine of 1 million rubles ($16,590).
Griner's defence team said Thursday it will appeal the verdict after the athlete was sentenced to nine years in prison by a Russian court.
"The court completely ignored all the evidence of the defence, and most importantly, the guilty plea," the defence team said in a statement. "The verdict is absolutely unreasonable. We will certainly file an appeal."
President Joe Biden on Thursday called a Russian court's sentencing of Griner to nine years in prison "unacceptable."
"Russia is wrongfully detaining Brittney. 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 in a statement.
The US president reiterated that he would "work tirelessly and pursue every possible avenue" to repatriate Griner and another detained American in Russian, Paul Whelan.
Negotiations are reportedly underway to swap the two for Russians incarcerated in the United States, including the notorious arms smuggler Viktor Bout.
Before her trial began in July, the State Department designated her as “wrongfully detained,” moving her case under the supervision of its special presidential envoy for hostage affairs, effectively the government’s chief hostage negotiator.
Then last week, in an extraordinary move, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke to his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, urging him to accept a deal under which Griner and Paul Whelan, an American imprisoned in Russia on an espionage conviction, would go free.
The Lavrov-Blinken call marked the highest-level known contact between Washington and Moscow since Russia sent troops into Ukraine more than five months ago. The direct outreach over Griner is at odds with US efforts to isolate the Kremlin.
People familiar with the proposal say it envisions trading Griner and Whelan for the notorious arms trader Viktor Bout. It underlines the public pressure that the White House has faced to get Griner released.
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters Monday that Russia has made a “bad faith” response to the US government’s offer, a counteroffer that American officials don’t regard as serious. She declined to elaborate.
Russian officials have scoffed at US statements about the case, saying they show a disrespect for Russian law. They remained poker-faced, urging Washington to discuss the issue through “quiet diplomacy without releases of speculative information.”