Lavrov To Propose a Time to Discuss Possible Prisoner Swap for Brittney Griner
Russia’s foreign minister said on Friday that he would propose a convenient date for a phone call with Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken to discuss a possible prisoner exchange.
The Biden administration has offered to hand over Viktor Bout, the imprisoned Russian arms dealer, in exchange for the release of the American basketball star Brittney Griner and the former U.S. Marine Paul N. Whelan, both of whom are in custody in Russia, according to a person familiar with the talks.
The two Americans have become pawns in a high-stakes diplomatic game as relations between Moscow and Washington have deteriorated sharply since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24.
On Wednesday, Mr. Blinken said that Washington had “put a substantial proposal on the table,” although he declined to discuss the details. He added that he planned to discuss the proposal soon with his Russian counterpart, Sergey V. Lavrov, whom he has not spoken to since Russia invaded Ukraine more than five months ago.
During a trip to Uzbekistan on Friday, Mr. Lavrov said that he had learned about Mr. Blinken’s statement from television during a visit to Africa this week. He said that any phone conversation between the two men would have to be conducted from his office and that Russia had asked the American side “to clarify the questions they want to discuss.”
Mr. Lavrov said that the question of prisoner exchanges had been discussed during a January meeting in Geneva between President Biden and President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, and both leaders ordered their government agencies to discuss it further. Mr. Lavrov said that his ministry was not involved in that discussion, but that he would listen to what Mr. Blinken has to say.
The American government has come under increased pressure from relatives of U.S. citizens to get them released from Russian prisons.
Ms. Griner, a W.N.B.A. star who had been playing for a Russian team during the off-season, is on trial in a Russian court and faces a sentence of up to 10 years in prison on drug charges. The 31-year-old athlete was detained in a Moscow airport about a week before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and customs officials discovered hashish oil in her luggage.
Mr. Whelan was detained in 2018 in a Moscow hotel, where he had been staying for a friend’s wedding. In 2020, a Russian court sentenced him to 16 years in prison for espionage, a charge that he and his family have denied.
Mr. Bout is serving a 25-year federal prison sentence for conspiring to sell weapons to people who said they planned to kill Americans. Russia has denounced Mr. Bout’s prosecution in America as politically motivated.
In April, after an elaborate diplomatic mission, Russia released Trevor Reed, another former Marine, in exchange for Konstantin Yaroshenko, a Russian pilot who had been sentenced to a lengthy prison term in the United States on cocaine trafficking charges.
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