Russia says it’s ready to discuss prisoner swap with U.S. after Griner gets 9 years in jail

The Biden Administration is offering to trade Viktor Bout for Griner and former US Marine Paul...
The Biden Administration is offering to trade Viktor Bout for Griner and former US Marine Paul Whelan.(Arizona's Family)
Published: Aug. 5, 2022 at 7:52 AM EDT
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(NBC) - Russia said Friday it was ready to discuss a prisoner swap with the United States, a day after WNBA star Brittney Griner was sentenced to nine years in prison by a Russian court for a drugs offense.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Moscow was “ready to discuss this topic,” but only within the framework of a diplomatic channel that he said had been previously agreed upon by President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“There is a special channel that has been agreed upon by the presidents, and no matter what anyone says publicly, this channel remains relevant,” he said at a news conference at a meeting with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Cambodia.

Biden said Thursday his administration would continue to “work tirelessly and pursue every possible avenue” to bring Griner and Paul Whelan, who is serving a 16-year sentence for espionage, back home.

The U.S. has proposed that Moscow release the pair in exchange for convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, according to two sources familiar with the matter. But Russia has shown no sign of accepting the offer, and has decried Washington’s decision to publicize it in an effort to step up the pressure for a deal.

Lavrov warned the U.S. against conducting “public diplomacy” and making “loud announcements” on the issue, suggesting it could imperil the high-stakes efforts to secure a swap.

“If the Americans decide to resort to public diplomacy again and make loud announcements ... this is their business, their problem,” he said Friday.

But Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Lavrov’s comments suggested Russia was “prepared to engage through channels we’ve established ... and we’ll be pursuing that.”

He was also speaking at a news conference from Phnom Penh, but a State Department official said the countries’ two top diplomats had not yet spoken face-to-face at the ASEAN summit and had no plans to do so on Friday. The last time they spoke directly was during a planned phone call last week, the official said.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Thursday that the U.S. had made a “serious proposal” for a prisoner swap and urged Russia to “accept it.”

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