After Brittney Griner Conviction, Russia Ready To Discuss Prisoner Swap With US, Says Lavrov

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told reporters in Cambodia that the Kremlin is “ready to discuss this issue, but within the framework of the channel agreed upon by the presidents,” state news agency RIA Novosti reported.

“There is a specific channel that has been agreed upon by [Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Joe Biden]and no matter what anyone says publicly, this channel will remain in place,” Lavrov said Friday at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit.

Shortly afterward, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said at the same summit that the US would “continue” talks with Russia.

“We put forward, as you know, a substantial proposal that Russia should engage with us. And what Foreign Minister Lavrov said this morning and publicly is that they are prepared to engage through the channels that we have established to do just that.” And we will continue with that,” Blinken told reporters at a news conference.

Comments from each side suggest that a negotiation process, which has already proven complex, could be accelerated in the coming days.

Russian government officials requested last month that a former colonel from the country’s national spy agency, which was convicted of murder in Germany last year, be included in the proposed US swap. arms dealer Viktor Bout for Griner and Paul Whelan, multiple sources familiar with the discussions told CNN.
Whelan, a US citizen, has been detained by Russia since 2018 and was sentenced by a Russian court in 2020 on espionage charges which he has strenuously denied. Griner’s conviction has raised similar concerns that she is being used as a political pawn in Russia’s war against Ukraine. The US Department of State classifies the couple as wrongfully detained.

Griner, a star for the Women’s National Basketball Association, pleaded guilty to carrying cannabis oil in her luggage while traveling through a Moscow airport on February 17. She testified in court that she was aware of Russia’s strict anti-drug laws and that she had no intention of bringing cannabis into the country. her the country, saying that she was in a hurry and “packing the stress”.

Before Thursday’s verdict, Griner apologized in court and pleaded for mercy in an emotional speech. “He never wanted to hurt anyone, I never wanted to endanger the Russian population, I never wanted to break any laws here,” he said.

“I made an honest mistake and I hope that in his ruling I don’t end my life here. I know everyone is still talking about politics and political pawn, but I hope that is far from this courtroom,” he continued.

Griner’s attorneys hoped his guilty plea and pleas of remorse would result in a more lenient sentence.

His conviction, Blinken told reporters, “highlights [Washington’s] very significant concern with Russia’s legal system and the Russian government’s use of unjust detentions to advance its own agenda by using people as political pawns.”

“The same goes for Paul Whelan,” Blinken added.

Earlier Friday, a US State Department official told reporters there had been no “serious response” from Russia over a proposed swap. The same official said that Blinken and Lavrov had not met during the Cambodia summit and that Blinken had no plans to do so.

Before the start of Thursday’s WNBA game between Griner’s Phoenix Mercury and the Connecticut Sun, members of both teams hugged around center court and a 42-second moment of silence was held for Brittney Griner.

Near the end of those 42 seconds, members of the crowd began yelling, “Bring her home! Bring her home!”

This story has been updated with additional developments.

CNN’s Martin Goillandeau and Daniel Allman contributed to this report.

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