‘Griner begins sentence in prison’

Basketball star Brittney Griner, whose plight has generated widespread anger in the United States, has been sent to a remote Russian penal colony, her lawyers said on Thursday.

The US athlete was handed nine years in prison in August for possessing vape cartridges with a small quantity of cannabis oil, after she was arrested at a Moscow airport in February.

The 32-year-old's case comes amid fierce tensions between Moscow and Washington over Russia's military offensive in Ukraine.

"Brittney began serving her sentence at IK-2 in Mordovia," lawyers Maria Blagovolina and Alexander Boykov said in a statement.

"We visited her early this week. Brittney is doing as well as could be expected and trying to stay strong as she adapts to a new environment."

The lawyers said no further comment would be provided "considering that this is a very challenging period for her."

Last week US President Joe Biden voiced hope that Russian leader Vladimir Putin would negotiate "more seriously" to free Griner.

"My intention is to get her home, and we've had a number of discussions so far," he said at the time.

On Monday, US and Russian spy chiefs held a rare face-to-face meeting in Ankara on Americans held prisoner by the Kremlin, as well on Moscow's nuclear threats in Ukraine, the White House said.

In what appeared to be the highest-level direct talks between officials of the two countries since Russia sent troops to Ukraine in February, Central Intelligence Agency Director William Burns met with Sergei Naryshkin, head of Russia's SVR foreign intelligence service.

Observers have suggested that Griner and another American jailed in Russia, Paul Whelan — a retired US Marine arrested in December 2018 and accused of spying — could be traded for Viktor Bout, a famed Russian arms trafficker serving 25 years in prison on a 2012 conviction.

The IK-2 penal colony is in the town of Yavas in the central region of Mordovia, known for its harsh climate.

The IK stands for a "corrective colony", the most common type of prison in Russia.

According to Russia's Federal Penitentiary Service, the IK-2 houses more than 800 inmates who live in barracks.

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