Biden replies to letter from basketball star detained in Russia


The US president contacted the basketball player’s wife Cherelle Griner by telephone

US President Joe Biden has written out a draft reply to jailed WNBA basketball star Brittney Griner which he read to her wife Cherelle during a Wednesday telephone conversation.

Griner, whose Russian drug-smuggling trial will be heard again on Thursday, wrote her letter to Biden on July 4 and pleaded with him to get her out of detention where she fears she could be kept “forever.”

The two-time Olympic gold medalist has been detained since February 17 when a search of her luggage at an airport near Moscow uncovered banned vape cartridges containing cannabis oil.

Griner was in Russia to play for UMMC Ekaterinburg, where she had featured regularly for several years during the WNBA off-season.

White House first acknowledged that Biden had read Griner’s letter but didn’t reveal what his reaction to the document was or if he would reply to it, although it has now been confirmed that the American leader wrote out a draft response read to Griner’s wife, Cherelle.

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Brittney Griner is a high-profile detainee in Russia. © Christian Petersen / Getty Images
Biden reads detained Griner’s letter but player’s wife ‘disheartened’

“The president called Cherelle to reassure her that he is working to secure Brittney’s release as soon as possible,” said the White House in a statement, where it was outlined how Biden is planning to bring home other “wrongfully detained” US nationals such as Paul Whelan, charged with espionage, home from Russia. 

“He also read her a draft of the letter the president is sending to Brittney Griner today,” it was added, with Biden offering “his support to Cherelle and Brittney’s family” while committing to “ensuring they are provided with all possible assistance while his administration pursues every avenue to bring Brittney home.”

After her talk with Biden, Cherelle Griner attended a “Bring BG Home Rally” at the Footprint Center which is home to Brittney Griner’s Phoenix Mercury WNBA team .

“What and how I feel today is a deeper emotion than hurt. I’m frustrated,” Cherelle Griner said, claiming that the basketball player “was not going to get justice.”  

Shortly before her trial started at Khimki City Court just outside Moscow last Friday, Griner had her detention extended by a further six months until December 20 and could face up to 10 years in prison if convicted.

According to Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, when questioned on the possibility of a prisoner-exchange for Russian Viktor Bout, further steps in Griner’s case should not be discussed until court proceedings have been completed. 

“It is clear that we have not completed the necessary judicial procedures. Until this happens, there are no nominal, formal, [or] procedural grounds for any further steps, not to mention anything else,” Ryabkov told reporters.

Furthermore, Ryabkov was critical of how the US refers to those that have received sentences in Russia for serious crimes, as well as those who are waiting for the completion of investigations and court verdicts.

In his view, this shows how Washington is unwilling “to perceive the world around us adequately” and makes it “difficult to engage in a substantive discussion of various kinds of exchanges” against such a backdrop.

The Kremlin denies accusations that Griner’s continued detention is politically-motivated, saying an exception to the law should not be made simply because she is a foreigner. 

READ MORE: Kremlin reiterates stance as US basketball star’s drug trial begins

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