A Russian court, as expected, upheld WNBA star Brittney Griner’s nine-year sentence for drug possession, rejecting her appeal for reduced punishment.
The ruling handed down by a three-judge panel sends Griner to serve out her sentence in a Russian prison colony, unless U.S. officials are able to negotiate her release. The seven-time WNBA all star has been detained since February after Russian authorities found vape cartridges containing cannabis in her luggage at Moscow’s airport.
“Today’s decision while unfortunate, was not unexpected and Brittney Griner remains wrongly detained," WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said in a statement.
But Engelbert, who has described Griner's situation as "unimaginable," told Yahoo Finance recently that she believes the Biden administration is doing all it can to free the basketball star.
“Mentally, it’s very, very taxing the longer she’s there,” Engelbert said in an interview during Yahoo Finance’s All Markets Summit last week. (See video above.) “We've been talking with the State Department, the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs, and everybody in the administration. And they're all Brittney all the time. They're trying to find every different way to get her home safely and as soon as possible.”
The ruling adds pressure on U.S. government officials to bring Griner home, but her pathway out of Russia’s custody remains challenging. White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre has said that President Biden “has no intention of meeting with President Putin” at the upcoming G-20 summit, despite Biden’s previous comments on being open to talks to discuss Griner’s release.
The White House responded to the Russian court's decision earlier today, calling it “another sham judicial proceeding.”
“President Biden has been very clear that Brittney should be released immediately,” White House national security advisor Jake Sullivan said in a statement. “In recent weeks, the Biden-Harris Administration has continued to engage with Russia through every available channel and make every effort to bring home Brittney as well as to support and advocate for other Americans detained in Russia, including fellow wrongful detainee Paul Whelan.”
“There's no easy answer here,” Engelbert added. “The administration is full court pressed, to use a basketball analogy, to try to get Brittney home and I think you need the other side to come forward with a reasonable deal… From our discussions with the administration, they're trying everything they can do to get a deal done.”
This story has been updated.
Seana Smith is an anchor with Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter at @SeanaNSmith.