U.S. in 'active discussions' with Russia to free Paul Whelan, Brittney Griner

Brittney Griner #42 of the Phoenix Mercury prepares for game 1 of the WNBA Finals at Footprint Center on October 10, 2021 in Phoenix, Arizona.
Brittney Griner #42 of the Phoenix Mercury prepares for game 1 of the WNBA Finals at Footprint Center on October 10, 2021 in Phoenix, Arizona. Photo credit Mike Mattina/Getty Images

The U.S. government has been partaking in "active discussions" with Russia to free two American detainees, Paul Whelan, a former U.S. Marine, and Brittney Griner, according to U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price.

Price made his comments Monday, saying that the talks have been taking place in "recent days" and are still ongoing, according to Reuters.

The news comes as Griner's appeal of her drug conviction was denied in a Russian court on Tuesday. The court upheld the nine-year prison sentence the WNBA star received in August.

"We have not weighed in on the various judicial proceedings and judicial steps because, as we've made clear, we believe that these proceedings have been largely shambolic," Price told reporters.

Griner was detained for drug possession after cannabis oil was allegedly discovered in her luggage at a Russian airport at the beginning of this year. She has been held in the country ever since. No clear evidence has been presented by Russia to corroborate her detention.

Other officials have also called the holding of Griner a sham, including U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, who said the appeal hearing was only "another sham judicial proceeding," in a statement Tuesday.

Sullivan also shared that the Biden administration "has continued to engage with Russia through every available channel" in order to free Griner and Whelan.

In an interview earlier this month, Griner's attorney shared that she fears she will have to spend the entirety of her sentence in Russia.

"She is not yet absolutely convinced that America will be able to take her home," Alexandr D. Boykov, her attorney, told the New York Times. "She is very worried about what the price of that will be, and she is afraid that she will have to serve the whole sentence here in Russia."

Top Russian aide Yury Ushakov shared in the days after the comments from Boykov that releasing Griner was not a priority for Putin or the Kremlin. He claimed that Biden was only looking for good publicity through his public efforts to free the Americans.

"In this tense situation, I think that he is thinking first and foremost about the upcoming midterm elections, so he keeps emphasizing the need to bring back home the basketball player who was detained for drug smuggling. However, it's not the main issue that we are concerned about," Ushakov said in an interview with Rossiya-1.

Still, Sullivan shared that the administration is doing everything possible to pursue negotiations.

"The administration remains in regular touch with representatives of the families, and we continue to admire their courage in the face of these unimaginable circumstances," Sullivan said.

Featured Image Photo Credit: Mike Mattina/Getty Images