Russia ‘Ready to Discuss’ Prisoner Swap Now Brittney Griner Sentenced

Russia said on Friday it was “ready to discuss” a prisoner swap with Washington at the presidential level, a day after the drug conviction American basketball star Brittney Griner.

Despite growing tensions between Russia and the US since the launch of Moscow military intervention in Ukrainethe former Cold War rivals seemed to be inching closer to a new prisoner swap.

The White House urged Russia to accept its offer of a deal for the release of Griner and former US Marine Paul Whelan, who was sentenced to 16 years in prison on espionage charges.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Friday that Moscow was ready to discuss the matter.

“We are ready to discuss this issue, but only within the framework of the channel (of communication) established by Presidents Putin and Biden,” Lavrov told a news conference on a visit to Cambodia.


Viktor Bout, Russian arms dealer, at the center of a possible prisoner exchange

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“There is a special channel established by the presidents and, despite certain public statements, it continues to function,” he added.

United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who spoke with Lavrov about the exchange last Friday, he said that Washington will “continue” talks with Russia.

He also said Griner’s conviction highlighted the “Russian government’s use of unjust detentions to advance its own agenda by using individuals as political pawns.”

WNBA player Griner was sentenced to nine years in a Russian penal colony on Thursday and ordered to pay a fine of one million rubles ($16,590) for possession and smuggling of narcotics.

The two-time Olympic basketball gold medalist and NBA women’s champion was detained at a Moscow airport in February after she was found carrying vape cartridges laced with cannabis oil in her luggage.

The Phoenix Mercury player was coming to Russia to play club basketball with UMMC Ekaterinburg during the US offseason, a common path for American stars looking for additional income.

Griner pleaded guilty to the chargesbut said he did not intend to break the law or use the banned substance in Russia.

“I want the court to understand that it was an honest mistake that I made while running, under stress, trying to recover from post-Covid and just trying to get back on my team,” Griner said in his closing statement before the verdict.

Griner had testified that he had permission from a US doctor to use medical cannabis to relieve pain from his many injuries and had never failed a drug test.

The use of medical marijuana is not allowed in Russia.

Griner’s legal team said it plans to appeal the “unreasonable” verdict.

President Biden called Griner’s conviction “unacceptable” and said Washington will “work tirelessly” to secure his release.

Blinken has said Washington submitted a “substantial proposal” for the Griner-Whelan swap.

The highest-profile Russian prisoner in the United States is Victor fightsa 55-year-old arms dealer nicknamed the “Merchant of Death”, serving a 25-year sentence.

There is no official confirmation that Washington has offered to trade him.

Bout’s wife, Alla, expressed condolences to Griner’s family on Friday, saying she hoped her husband and the American athlete would be able to return home.

“Sympathy has no citizenship or nationality, it is a universal human emotion,” he told the Russian news agency RIA Novosti, expressing his hope that Russia and the United States “will reach an agreement.”

Moscow and Washington have already carried out a prisoner exchange since the beginning of Moscow’s offensive in Ukraine.

In April Washington traded former US Marine Trevor Reed for convicted drug lord Konstantin Yaroshenko.

in a handwritten letter of Griner that was delivered to the White House last month, the WNBA player wrote how terrified she is that she could be jailed in Russia “forever.”

Griner’s wife, Cherelle, told “CBS Mornings” that when she read the letter, she could feel the fear Griner was experiencing.

“She’s probably the strongest person I know, so she doesn’t say words like that lightly. That means she’s really terrified that she’ll never see us again. You know, I share those same feelings,” Cherelle Griner said.


Cherelle Griner says President Biden wrote a letter to Brittney Griner

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