June 3, 2023

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said on Thursday that the US had made a “serious offer” of a prisoner exchange and called on Russia to “accept it”.

“They should have accepted it weeks ago when we first did it,” he said. Asked if Washington was considering a counteroffer from Russia, Kirby said: “I don’t think we’re getting that far to call it a counteroffer.”

Griner, 31, was sentenced to nine years in prison in Russia on Thursday after pleading guilty to drug possession and smuggling. He will also have to pay a fine of 1 million rubles ($16,590), but can appeal the verdict.

The basketball star was arrested at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport in February after Russian authorities said they found vapor containers containing cannabis oil in her luggage.

Griner, a center for the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury who has played in Russia for the past seven years in the winter, admitted the canisters were hers. However, she said she had brought them to Russia unwittingly after packing her luggage in a hurry.

In a final plea for leniency on Thursday, the two-time Olympic gold medalist he apologized and reiterated that he had never intended to break any Russian law and that he had made “an honest mistake”.

Griner’s legal team said the basketball star was “very disappointed” by Thursday’s outcome.

“The court completely ignored all the defense evidence, and most importantly, the guilty plea,” her lawyers said in a separate statement sent to the Telegram messaging app. They said they would appeal.

Griner’s WNBA team, the Phoenician Hermessaid he is optimistic the Biden administration will be able to secure her freedom.

“While we knew it was never the legal process that would bring our friend home, today’s verdict is a disappointing milestone in the nightmare 168 days our sister, BG, has endured,” the WNBA franchise said in a statement.

“We remain devastated for her, as we have been every day for almost six months. We remain grateful and confident for the public servants who are working every day to return her to her family and to us,” he said.

The Kremlin has been accused of using Griner as a political pawn, while the Biden administration has come under increasing pressure from her family and teammates to secure her release.

Julia Talmazan and Julia Jester contributed.

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