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U.S. State Department shuts down Russian claims of progress on Brittney Griner talks

Despite claims from Russia, negotiations to bring WNBA star Brittney Griner back to the United States haven’t made much progress, the U.S. Department of State on Friday.

The department said in a statement that Russia has not engaged in serious negotiations regarding Griner’s release from prison.

"We are not going to comment on the specifics of any proposals other than to say that we have made a substantial offer that the Russian Federation has consistently failed to negotiate in good faith," the department said in a statement, via ESPN. "The U.S. Government has continued to follow up on that offer and propose alternative potential ways forward with the Russian government. The Russian government's failure to seriously negotiate on these issues in the established channel, or any other channel for that matter runs counter to its public statements."

[UPDATE: Brittney Griner released from Russian prison 10 months after arrest]

The statement came hours after Russian deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov said there was new “activity” in the discussions. Ryabkov also sounded hopeful that convicted arms dealer Viktor Bout — who is serving 25 years in prison in the United States and has long been linked to these discussions — would be returned to Russia.

"We haven't found common ground yet, but, undoubtedly, Viktor Bout is among those being discussed and obviously we are hoping for a positive result," Ryabkov reportedly said, via ESPN. "The Americans are showing certain activity and we are working on this through appropriate channels."

Griner is serving a nine-year prison sentence in Russia after police found a small amount of cannabis oil in her luggage at a Moscow airport earlier this year. She was moved to a remote penal colony in the Mordovia region, located about 300 miles southeast of Moscow, earlier this month, her legal team said Thursday.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said a “substantial proposal” was made to Russia for Griner and Paul Whelan, another American currently detained in Russia. The deal is reportedly a 2-for-1 prisoner swap in exchange for Bout, the convicted arms trafficker who is nicknamed “the Merchant of Death.”

Griner, per ESPN, has still not been in contact with her family since moving to the new penal colony, something U.S. officials said they didn’t know was happening until she had already left Moscow.

"While we are glad her legal team was able to visit her, the fact is that the Russian Federation has still failed to provide any official notification of such a move," a State Department spokesperson said in a statement, via ESPN. "We continue to call on Russia to live up to their legal obligations to provide the United States timely consular access to Ms. Griner so we can provide critical consular assistance throughout her detention. That's difficult to do when we haven't been notified where she is."

Brittney Griner
Russia’s deputy foreign minister said that progress was being made on a prisoner swap for Brittney Griner. The U.S. said Russia has “consistently failed to negotiate in good faith.” (Evgenia Novozhenina/Reuters)