White House Is 'Still Waiting on' Russia to Respond to Proposed Brittney Griner Exchange

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Shortly after Brittney Griner was sentenced to nine years in a Russian prison on Thursday, a U.S. official told PEOPLE that the Biden Administration is "still waiting" for Russia to respond to a proposed prisoner exchange to bring the WNBA star back home.

Griner received her sentence Thursday after her lawyers presented their closing argument in the case, which involved charges of smuggling drugs into the country.

The 31-year-old Phoenix Mercury star has been detained in Russia since February, after officials at Sheremetyevo International Airport allegedly found vape cartridges containing hash oil in her luggage. Hash oil is an illegal substance in the country.

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In comments to PEOPLE, a U.S. official said that Russia has not yet responded to a "substantial offer" from U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken for the release of Griner and Paul Whelan, an American citizen who was arrested on espionage charges in Russia in 2018.

RELATED: Brittney Griner Sentenced to 9 Years in Russian Prison on Drug Possession Charges

"We remain very interested in making a swap and are continuing to press the Russians aggressively to accept it or move forward with negotiations, but the ball is in Russia's court as we are still waiting on them to respond," the official said on Thursday.

US basketball player Brittney Griner holds photos inside a defendants' cage before a court hearing during her trial on charges of drug smuggling, in Khimki, outside Moscow on August 2, 2022. - Griner was detained at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport in February 2022 just days before Moscow launched its offensive in Ukraine. She was charged with drug smuggling for possessing vape cartridges with cannabis oil. Speaking at the trial on July 27, Griner said she still did not know how the cartridges ended up in her bag.


According to CNN, the U.S. reportedly offered to swap Griner and Whelan for convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, and Russian officials have also asked the U.S. to include a convicted murder and former Russian spy named Vadim Krasikov.

Both the White House Press Secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre, and a Defense Department spokesperson have said Russia made this counter-proposal in "bad faith," according to CNN and ESPN.

RELATED: A Timeline of Brittney Griner's Detainment in Russia

Blinken said in a statement shared with PEOPLE Thursday that the nine-year sentence given to Griner "further compounds the injustice of her wrongful detention."

"This step puts a spotlight on our significant concerns with Russia's legal system and the Russian government's use of wrongful detentions to advance its own agenda, using individuals as political pawns," he said. "Nothing about today's decision changes our determination that Brittney Griner is wrongfully detained, and we will continue working to bring Brittney and fellow wrongfully detained U.S. citizen Paul Whelan home. This is an absolute priority of mine and the Department's."

US' Women's National Basketball Association (NBA) basketball player Brittney Griner, who was detained at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport and later charged with illegal possession of cannabis, arrives to a hearing at the Khimki Court, outside Moscow on August 4, 2022. - Lawyers for US basketball star Brittney Griner, who is standing trial in Russia on drug charges, said on July 26, 2022 they hoped she would receive a "lenient" sentence.


Before her sentencing, Griner told the judge that though she pled guilty to bringing less than 1 gram of cannabis oil into Russia, she did so "inadvertently" and asked the court for leniency.

"I grew up in a normal household in Houston, Texas, with my siblings and my mom and my dad. My mom stayed at home to take care of me and my sister, and my father went to work and provided for our family," Griner told the judge through an interpreter, per the Washington Post.

She continued: "My parents taught me two things: One is to take ownership for your responsibilities, and two, to work hard for everything that you have."

RELATED VIDEO: 'Forgotten' American Woman Jailed in Russia with Brittney Griner Tried to Flee with U.S. Help Before Arrest

Griner, who plays for the Russian women's basketball team UMMC Ekaterinburg during the WNBA offseason, said her teammates and fans in the country made her feel like it was a "second home."

"I never meant to hurt anybody, to put in jeopardy the Russian population or violate any Russian laws," she said, per the Post.

In a statement, President Joe Biden said the ruling was "unacceptable."

"Today, American citizen Brittney Griner received a prison sentence that is one more reminder of what the world already knew: Russia is wrongfully detaining Brittney," he said. "It's unacceptable, and I call on Russia to release her immediately so she can be with her wife, loved ones, friends, and teammates. My administration will continue to work tirelessly and pursue every possible avenue to bring Brittney and Paul Whelan home safely as soon as possible."