Russia’s top diplomat signaled on Friday that the Kremlin was ready to discuss a prisoner swap with the US, a day after Brittney Griner was convicted of possession of cannabis and sentenced to nine years in prison.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that President Vladimir Putin and President Joe Biden had previously agreed that a private diplomatic channel should be used to discuss potential prisoner swaps, “regardless of what anyone says publicly.”
Referring to the possibility of an exchange, Lavrov told reporters while attending the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit in Cambodia: “We are ready to discuss this issue, but within the framework of the channel that Presidents Putin and Biden agreed on.” ”.
He added: “If the Americans decide to resort once again to public diplomacy … that is their problem and I would even say that it is their problem.”
Lavrov’s US counterpart, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, agreed that Washington was prepared to engage Moscow through established diplomatic channels.
There have been discussions that 31-year-old WNBA star and retired Marine Paul Whelan, who is jailed in Russia on an espionage conviction, could be exchanged for Victor Bouta notorious arms dealer nicknamed “the Merchant of Death” serving a 25-year sentence in the US.
After Griner’s verdict was announced at the Khimki courthouse outside Moscow on Thursday, Blinken said in a statement that his sentence “compounds the injustice of his wrongful detention.”
The Kremlin has kept quiet about the prospect of a swap, saying that if prisoner swaps were discussed in the media, they would never happen.
“The Americans have already made that mistake, and suddenly they decided to use megaphone diplomacy to solve these problems,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. “This is not how they are resolved.”
Peskov declined to comment on Griner’s verdict. When asked if she could be pardoned, she said that the clemency procedure was codified in Russian law.
The United States has already made what Blinken called a “substantial offer” to secure the release of Griner and Whelan.
“We urge you to accept it,” White House national security spokesman John Kirby said. “They should have accepted it weeks ago when we first did it.”
Kirby did not elaborate on the proposal, but sources familiar with the matter said the Biden administration has offered to trade Bout for the two jailed Americans.
Russia had also reportedly attempted to add convicted murderer Vadim Krasikov, imprisoned in Germany, to the proposed exchange.
A State Department official said that Blinken and Lavrov had not met at the summit in Cambodia, CNN reported.
Griner was arrested on February 17 at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport with vape cartridges containing hashish oil in her luggage.
The United States argued that she was unjustly detained and that Moscow used her as a political bargaining chip. Russian officials dismissed that claim, saying Griner had broken Russian law and should be prosecuted accordingly.
Griner pleaded guilty to the charges but he testified that he made an “honest mistake” by placing the cartridges in his luggage while “stress packing”, and that he never intended to break Russian law.
Before his verdict was announced Thursday, Griner tearfully apologized and pleaded for mercy.
“I 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 his decision does not end my life here. I know everyone keeps talking about political pawns and politics, but I hope that is far from this courtroom,” he added.
with post wires