The Kremlin has warned against any public discussions involving a potential prisoner swap that includes WNBA star Brittney Griner, just a day after a Russian court ruled to uphold her nine-year prison sentence for drug possession.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov issued the warning Wednesday when reporters asked if Griner could be released as a part of a prisoner swap negotiated by the White House, saying “we always say that any contacts about possible exchanges can only be conducted in silence under a tight lid on any information.”
Peskov made a similar statement in August after widely circulated reports suggested that Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer who is serving a 25-year sentence in the U.S., was a key component in the deal being discussed.
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“If we discuss prisoner exchanges via the press then they will never take place,” he said at the time, via Reuters.
Griner was arrested at Sheremetyevo Airport in Moscow on Feb. 17 after Russian officials say she was carrying vape canisters containing cannabis oil in her luggage. Despite pleading guilty to the charges, the two-time Olympic gold medalist claimed she inadvertently brought the substances with her and did not intend to break the law.
Griner’s lawyers claimed during the trial that she had been prescribed the substance to help manage her pain.
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During an appeal hearing on Tuesday, Griner’s nine-year sentence was upheld.
“It is not what we expected. We are very disappointed,” Griner’s attorneys, Maria Blagovolina and Alexander Boykov, said Tuesday. “The verdict contains numerous defects, and we hoped that the court of appeal would take them into consideration. We still think the punishment is excessive and contradicts to the existing court practice.”
“Brittney’s biggest fear is that she is not exchanged and will have to serve the whole sentence in Russia. She had hopes for today as each month, each day away from her family and friends matters to her.”
National security adviser Jake Sullivan released a statement Tuesday again stating the U.S.’s stance that she has been “wrongfully detained.”
Sullivan added that the White House has continued “to engage with Russia” over the release of Griner and “fellow wrongful detainee Paul Whelan” in recent weeks.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.