WASHINGTON — In response to a long-standing request from the families of the two Americans being detained in Russia, President Biden will meet with the families of Brittney Griner and Paul N. Whelan at the White House on Friday.
Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House press secretary, stated on Thursday that the president does not have good news to share regarding the prisoner exchange that the administration offered Russia this summer.
Russians accepted the offer
While Ms. Jean-Pierre remarked, “I would love to say that the goal of this meeting is to notify the families that the Russians have accepted our offer and we are bringing their loved ones home, that is not what we’re witnessing in these conversations at this time.”
She continued, “The president wanted to make sure that their families know that they were front of mind and that his team was working relentlessly every day to get Brittney and Paul home safely.
Ms. Griner a nine-year prison sentence
W.N.B.A. standout and two-time Olympic gold winner Ms. Griner was imprisoned in Russia in February after officials there discovered vape cartridges containing 0.7 grams of cannabis oil in her luggage when she arrived to play basketball. She was given a nine-year prison sentence after being found guilty last month of attempting to smuggle drugs into Russia. Former Marine and business security officer Mr. Whelan was detained in 2018, found guilty of spying in 2020, and given a 16-year prison term.
Putin’s invasion of Ukraine made fates difficult for Americans
The worsening diplomatic ties between the US and Russia over President Vladimir V. Putin’s invasion of Ukraine have made it more difficult to determine the fates of both Americans. Mr. Biden has denounced Mr. Putin’s conduct in Ukraine, and the US has joined forces with other countries to put harsh sanctions on the nation.
In spite of this, the Biden administration made a deal this summer to free Viktor Bout, a Russian arms trader who had been given a 25-year sentence by a New York court in 2012, in exchange for the release of Ms. Griner and Mr. Whelan.
Offer’s lack of response
Russian officials have confirmed that diplomatic talks are ongoing, but White House officials have expressed frustration about the offer’s lack of a response.
On Thursday, Ms. Jean-Pierre stated that “the Russians should accept the offer that is on the table, and we would push them to do that.”
Cherelle Griner wanted to speak with Mr. Biden personally
Family members of both convicts complained that they had not heard from Mr. Biden directly at the beginning of the summer. The wife of Ms. Griner, Cherelle Griner, claimed at the beginning of July that the government was “not doing anything” and that she wanted to speak with Mr. Biden personally. Mr. Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris spoke with Cherelle Griner two days later.
As a result, Mr. Whelan’s sister Elizabeth Whelan publicly questioned why she had not gotten a similar call. Mr. Biden reassured Ms. Whelan that the government was attempting to release both of the convicts in a call shortly after.
Mr. Biden under pressure to personally meet with the families
Since then, Mr. Biden has come under increasing pressure to personally meet with the families. Since one of the family members was already going to be in the area on Friday, Ms. Jean-Pierre stated on Thursday that the president wanted to meet with both families on the same day.
It’s unclear if the president will meet with the families all at once or one at a time.
Two countries will strike a prisoner swap agreement
After releasing a convicted Russian drug smuggler in return for Trevor Reed, a former U.S. Marine who had been imprisoned in Russia for three years, there is now a chance that the two countries will strike a prisoner swap agreement. At the time, according to White House officials, their Russian counterparts suggested that another transaction for Mr. Bout would be feasible.
Because of his work selling weaponry, Mr. Bout has earned the moniker “Merchant of Death.” He was sentenced to 25 years in jail by the federal government for selling weapons to undercover U.S. agents while claiming he had no objections to the weapons being used to kill Americans.
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Reference – CBS Evening News