U.S. tamps down Russia's update on Brittney Griner talks

A potentially promising Russian statement about negotiations to bring Brittney Griner home was met with quick dismissal from the U.S. Department of State on Friday.

Sergei Ryabkov, the Russian deputy foreign minister, was quoted by Russian media early in the day saying there was new "activity" in talks that could see convicted arms dealer Viktor Bout, who is currently serving 25 years in a U.S. prison, 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. "The Americans are showing certain activity and we are working on this through appropriate channels."

But a State Department spokesperson fired back that Russia still has not seriously engaged in negotiations, no matter what Ryabkov said.

"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 statement said. "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."

U.S. officials had said they hoped their Russian counterparts would engage in good faith after the Nov. 8 midterm elections, but Friday's statement made it clear that such a shift hasn't happened, as least in the eyes of the U.S. government.

Sources close to Griner said Friday that her family remained "optimistic" and confident that the Biden administration was doing all it could to get her home. But they are also trying not to overreact to the ups and downs of a process they know could go on for months or years.

Friday's official statements came after Griner's recent transfer to a Russian penal colony, a move confirmed by her attorneys but still not officially acknowledged by the Russian government. Griner's attorneys met with her in person Monday, but U.S. embassy officials have not been able to visit her yet at the IK-2 women's prison about two hours outside of 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. "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."

One of Griner's attorneys, Maria Blagovolina, said recently that Russian officials typically notify families and attorneys about a prisoner's location by mail, which can take about two weeks during normal circumstances.

Griner has not yet been in contact with her family, a source said, and most likely won't be able to until she has cleared a standard "quarantine" period at her new location.