The United States and Russia say they are ready to hold talks on a prisoner swap. The remarks come a day after basketball star Brittney Griner was sentenced to nine years in prison for drug smuggling into Russia.
The 31-year-old American double Olympic champion was sentenced in Russia to nine years in prison for drug trafficking.
The United States would have presented a proposal to the Kremlin to obtain the release of Griner and this Friday, Sergey Lavror, head of Russian diplomacy, declared that Russia was willing to talk about an exchange of prisoners that could implicate the basketball player.
“We are willing to discuss this issue, but only within the framework of the (communication) channel that was agreed upon by Presidents (Vladimir) Putin and (Joe) Biden”Lavrov said, at a press conference from Cambodia.
“There is a special channel agreed by the presidents and, despite some public statements, it continues to work,” Lavrov added.
US President Joe Biden called Griner’s conviction “unacceptable” on Thursday.. The United States accuses Moscow of instrumentalizing its case to extract concessions from Washington.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who began talks with his Russian counterpart last week about a possible prisoner exchange, said Friday that Washington will “continue” discussing with Moscow.
A Russian court on Thursday convicted Griner. The ruling of the Russian body has raised great indignation, especially in the world of sports.
Griner was arrested in February in Moscow with a vaporizer containing cannabis-based liquid. The player admitted to having been in possession of this substance. However, she claimed to have inadvertently brought it to Russia and used it legally in the United States as a pain reliever.
As AFP recalls, Griner had come to Russia to play before the WNBA season, a common practice among American league basketball players, who often earn more money abroad than in the United States.
The athlete is one of several US citizens currently detained in Russia and whose release Washington wants.
The United States reported last week that it had made a “consistent” and “serious” offer to secure the return of Griner and Paul Whelan, an American serving a 16-year prison sentence in Russia for “espionage.”
Russian arms dealer
According to several US media, it would be about exchanging a famous Russian arms dealer arrested in the United States, Viktor Bout, for Griner and Whelan.
Bout was arrested in Thailand in 2008 and is currently serving a 25-year prison sentence in the United States.
Nicknamed the “merchant of death”, his extraordinary career inspired the film “The Lord of War”, with Nicolas Cage as the protagonist in which he plays a cynical arms dealer.
The arms dealer’s wife, Alla Bout, said Thursday that she hoped for a trade, expressing “compassion” for those close to Griner. “May God make sure that our countries come to an agreement,” Alla Bout told the Ria Novosti news agency.
Neither Russia nor the United States have confirmed this, and Moscow insists on its desire to keep the negotiations confidential, annoyed by the statements of US officials.
“If the Americans decide again to do public diplomacy and make thunderous statements (…) it is their business and their problem”said a Kremlin spokesman, adding that Washington “cannot” work “calmly and professionally” on various issues.