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President Joe Biden met with Cherelle Griner, wife of Brittney Griner, at the White House on September 16.
President Joe Biden met with Cherelle Griner, wife of Brittney Griner, at the White House on September 16. (White House)

Moscow says it is ready to negotiate the fate of American prisoners in Russia, but has accused the US of engaging in “media madness” after President Joe Biden personally met with the families of two American detainees last week.

Biden held separate meetings with the relatives of professional basketballer Brittney Griner and ex-marine Paul Whelan at the White House on Friday, marking the first time he personally convened them since the two were detained.

“Instead of fulfilling its direct official duties — maintaining contacts with the diplomats of the host country — the US Embassy in Moscow is engaged in some kind of media madness,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said in a statement on Telegram on Monday, pointing to videos and “funny pictures” posted by the US embassy in Moscow, as well as Biden’s meeting.

“Relatives were unable to get a clear explanation from the President of the United States about Russia’s demands for a prisoner exchange,” she said, adding that she learned of the details of the meeting through a CNN report citing Cherelle Griner, Brittney’s wife.

She added that she would have to turn to Whelan and Griner’s relatives herself.

“We have stated many times that we are ready for negotiations to resolve the fate of convicted US citizens in Russia and Russian citizens convicted in the United States.”

“If the US Embassy in Moscow has a minute of free time they will tell President Biden about it, and he, in turn, will tell the relatives of Whelan and Griner,” Zakharova said.

Following Griner’s sentencing in August, the US and Russia indicated they were ready to hold talks over a prisoner swap.

Griner was detained in February, accused of carrying vape cartridges containing cannabis oil in her luggage. The two-time US Olympic basketball gold medalist pleaded guilty to drug charges and said she accidentally packed the drugs while in a hurry. She has been sentenced to nine years, along with a fine of around $16,400. Her legal team in Russia has appealed the sentence.

Whelan has been imprisoned in Russia for more than three years after being convicted on espionage charges that he denies. He was sentenced in June 2020 to 16 years in prison in a trial US officials denounced as unfair.

In the meetings, Biden reiterated “his continued commitment to working through all available avenues to bring Brittney and Paul home safely,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a statement on Friday. “The President appreciated the opportunity to learn more about Brittney and Paul from those who love them most, and acknowledged that every minute they are being held is a minute too long.”

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