Family of two imprisoned US citizens – WNBA star Brittney Greener and former Marine Paul Whelan – met with President Biden at the White House to discuss efforts to release them from Russian custody – Copyright POOL/AFP Kirill KUDRYAVTSEV
President Joe Biden met on Friday with relatives of basketball star Britney Greener and US citizen Paul Whelan, who are both imprisoned in Russia as the US works to bring them home, the White House said.
In separate meetings in the Oval Office, Biden conferred with Whelan’s sister, Elizabeth Whelan, and then with Sherrell Griner, the wife of the Olympic champion.
After the meetings, the White House released a statement saying that Biden “appreciated the opportunity to learn more about Britney and Paul from those who love them most and acknowledged that every minute they hold is too long a minute.”
The statement gave no details about the status of talks with Russian authorities, but National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters earlier in the day that “discussions are ongoing” to secure Griner’s release.
“The president is not going to give up. He’s confident this will remain a focus for him and his team,” Kirby said.
Sherel Griner, in a statement released by her wife’s agent, thanked Biden for the meeting and “his administration’s efforts to get her released.”
“I felt every minute of the grueling seven months without her,” she said.
In August, Moscow said it was ready to discuss a prisoner swap for Griner, raising hopes for a quick solution.
Kirby said the Biden administration made what he called a serious offer, but “they’re not responding to our offer.”
“These two should be at home by now. period,” he added.
Griner was arrested at a Moscow airport in February, shortly before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, for possession of e-cigarette cartridges with a small amount of cannabis oil.
The 31-year-old football player, who was in Russia during the off-season with the Phoenix Mercury to play for the Yekaterinburg professional team, was charged with drug smuggling.
In early August, she was sentenced to nine years in a strict regime colony.
Whelan, a 52-year-old former US Marine, was arrested in December 2018 and charged with espionage by Russian intelligence agencies.
He was detained during a visit to Moscow for a wedding, when he took a flash drive from a friend, thinking that there were photos from the holiday. He did not look at the contents of the disc, but his lawyer said it contained “state secrets.”
The former security officer for a car parts company, who also holds British, Canadian and Irish passports, was sentenced in June 2020 to 16 years on charges of espionage.