Biden to meet with Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan’s families
Biden wants to reassure their families that he’s focused on securing their release, but has there been any movement in that effort?
President Joe Biden is planning to meet with Brittney Griner’s wife, Cherelle Griner, and Paul Whelan’s sister, Elizabeth Whelan, at the White House on Friday. Both Griner and Whelan are imprisoned in Russia.
“He wanted to let them know that they remain front of mind and that his team is working on this every day, on making sure that Brittney and Paul return home safely,” said White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, according to The Associated Press.
This will be the president’s first meeting with their families since Whelan and Griner have been imprisoned in Russia.
Who are Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan?
Brittney Griner is a WNBA player for the Phoenix Mercury. In February 2022, Griner was detained in Russia due to cannabis-containing vape cartridges found in her luggage.
She pleaded guilty to drug charges, though she claimed that she packed the cartridges accidentally. She was fined $16,400 and sentenced to nine years in prison, which her legal team has appealed, per CNN.
Whelan says that he made the trip to Russia in 2018 for a friend’s wedding. When Russian authorities arrested him in Moscow, they allege that they found a USB drive with classified information and subsequently charged him with espionage.
Russian authorities accused him of surveilling during a private trial and passed down the sentence of 16 years in a labor camp.
In the years since his arrest, Whelan has vehemently denied the charges against him.
Will this move the U.S. forward in working toward their release?
The U.S. government is working to secure Griner and Whelan’s release. According to CNN, Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced in July that the U.S. had proposed a deal with the Russian government.
This deal, however, has not been accepted by the Russian government and there remains little movement in the effort to release the pair.
According to the Detroit Free Press, Whelan’s brother David said that while he thinks Biden’s meeting with his family is a kindness, “I don’t think it means anything has changed in regard to Paul’s freedom. It reflects President Biden’s continued concern about Paul’s case.”