Russia negotiates prisoner swap with the US for basketball player Brittney Griner | Sports

The head of Russian diplomacy, Sergey Lavrov, declared on Friday that Moscow was willing to talk with Washington about a prisoner swap that could involve the American basketball player Brittney Griner sentenced the day before to nine years in prison for drug trafficking.

The double Olympic champion, 31 years old, is immersed in a geopolitical crisis between the United States and Russia in the midst of the conflict in Ukraine.

US President Joe Biden on Thursday called Griner’s conviction “unacceptable.” The United States accuses Moscow of instrumentalizing his case to extract concessions from Washington.

The US administration has claimed for several days to have submitted to the Kremlin a proposal to obtain Griner’s release, but Russian diplomacy reiterated that only a swap could be discussed once the verdict is in.

“We are willing to discuss this issue, but only within the framework of the channel (of communication) that was agreed upon by Presidents (Vladimir) Putin and (Joe) Biden“, said Lavrov, in a press conference from Cambodia.

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

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who entered into talks with his Russian counterpart last week about a possible prisoner swap, said this Friday that Washington “will continue” discussing with Moscow.

Blinken also noted that Griner’s sentence highlights the “Use of unlawful detentions by the Russian government to further its own agenda using individuals as political pawns”.

“serious offer”

A Russian court on Thursday sentenced Brittney Griner, considered one of the best basketball players in the world, to nine years in prison for drug trafficking.

The ruling of the Russian instance has raised a great outrage, especially in the world of sport.

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 brought her to Russia without realizing it and legally used in the United States as a pain reliever.

Griner had come to Russia to play before the WNBA season, a common practice among female basketball players in the American league, who often earn more. money abroad than in the United States.

The athlete is one of several citizens Americans 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 who serving a 16-year prison sentence in Russia for “espionage”.

Russian arms dealer

According to several American media, it would be a question of exchanging a famous Russian arms dealer detained in United States, Viktor Bout, by Brittney Griner and Paul 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 lead in which he plays a cynical arms dealer.

Arms dealer’s wife, Alla Bout, declared Thursday that he hoped for an exchange, and expressed his “compassion” towards those close to Brittney 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, upset by the statements of US officials.

“If the Americans decide again to engage in public diplomacy and making loud statements … is their business and their problem,” he said, adding that Washington “cannot” work “calmly and professionally” on various issues.

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