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US officials met with jailed American basketball star Brittney Griner on Thursday for the first time since a Russian court rejected her appeal over a drug possession conviction, and the White House said she was doing “as well as one can expect.” .

Involuntarily caught up in a geopolitical battle between Russia and the West, Ms Griner is grappling with a Russian appeals court’s decision to uphold a nine-year sentence in a penal colony for drug possession. Ms Griner, who recently turned 32 in Russian custody, pleaded guilty to drug smuggling charges and apologized for what she called an unintentional offence.

“We have been told that she is doing as well as could be expected under the circumstances,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters on Air Force One as they checked in with President Biden New Mexico travelled.

State Department spokesman Ned Price also noted that the meeting had taken place, posting on Twitter that officials at the US Embassy in Russia had seen Ms. Griner and “saw firsthand her tenacity and perseverance despite her current circumstances.”

In October, one of Ms Griner’s lawyers said she was increasingly concerned about her chances of being released on a prisoner exchange and was struggling emotionally. She is allowed to go to a penal colony outside Moscow once a day, lawyer Alexandr D. Boykov said in a recent interview. He said she walks in a small courtyard for an hour and spends the rest of her time in a small cell with two cellmates who sit and sleep on a specially lengthened bed to accommodate her 6-foot-9 frame.

Ekaterina Kalugina, a journalist who visited Ms. Griner’s cell in the spring, said in a telephone interview in October that Ms. Griner’s two cellmates at the time were women who spoke English and were also in prison on drug-related charges. She said Ms. Griner read a translation of Dostoyevsky’s novel Demons, a political tragedy.

The Biden administration has tried to negotiate a prisoner swap with Russia to bring home Ms. Griner and Paul Whelan, an American jailed on espionage charges but with no reported breakthroughs — and extraordinary tensions between the two countries over the war in Ukraine The public pressure campaign by athletes, led by their wife Cherelle Griner, has intensified.

American officials said the United States had offered to release jailed Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout as part of the deal. He is serving a 25-year sentence for conspiring to kill Americans.

A week before Russia invaded Ukraine in February, Ms. Griner, an all-star center with the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury and a two-time Olympic gold medalist, was arrested at an airport near Moscow after customs officials seized two vape cartridges containing hash oil found their luggage in it. She was on her way to Yekaterinburg, a city near the Ural Mountains, where she played for a women’s basketball team.

Ms Jean-Pierre said in comments livestreamed from the White House that embassy officials in Moscow were able to visit Brittney Griner on Thursday.

“As we have said, the US government has made a significant offer to the Russians to break the current unacceptable and unlawful detentions of American citizens Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan,” she said.

She added: “I can also tell you that in the weeks that followed, despite a lack of good faith negotiations by the Russians, the US government pursued this offer and suggested alternative options for the future to the Russians through all available channels.”

“This remains a top priority,” said Ms Jean-Pierre.


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