The Kremlin acknowledged for the first time on Thursday that US and Russian officials were in talks over a swap that could potentially free women’s basketball star Brittney Griner and former US Marine Paul Whelan from Russian prisons.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken took the unusual step of publicly revealing late last month that the Biden administration had offered the prisoner swap, even as Ms Griner was set to be sentenced to 9 years. and a half in jail by a Russian court after she was caught vaping with a small amount of cannabis as she entered the country.
She is imprisoned in Russia while her lawyers appeal.
Officials have privately said the proposal entails swapping Ms Griner and Mr Whelan, jailed on spying charges his family have denied, in return for a notorious international arms deal with Viktor Bout, who is serving a 25-year sentence in a US prison for illicit weapons. traffic.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov had previously said Moscow was open to a swap, but Thursday was the first confirmation from the Kremlin that negotiations were already underway.
“Let me remind you that the corresponding competent authorities have been instructed to negotiate the issue. Relevant agencies are in talks,” Deputy Foreign Ministry Spokesman Ivan Nechayev told reporters in Moscow on Thursday.
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The White House and Capitol Hill lawmakers have strongly criticized Ms. Griner’s lawsuit, but Mr. Nechayev has warned against trying to broker a deal in the press.
“We recommend abandoning vain attempts to pressure us and we call [U.S. officials] focus on practical work along the available channels. There is no other way,” Mr. Nechayev said.