Russia ‘willing’ to discuss prisoner swap after basketball player’s conviction

Moscow. The head of Russian diplomacy, Sergei Lavrov, He declared on Friday that Moscow is willing to talk to Washington about a prisoner swap that could implicate American basketball player Brittney Griner, sentenced to nine years in prison for drug trafficking.

The 31-year-old double Olympic champion 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.” In addition, the United States accused Moscow of instrumentalizing her case to extract concessions from Washington.

The US administration claimed for several days that it had submitted a proposal to the Kremlin to obtain Griner’s release, but Russian diplomacy reiterated that a swap could only be discussed once the verdict had been handed down.

“We are ready 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,” Lavrov said at 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. The United States Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, who entered into talks with his Russian counterpart last week about a possible prisoner swapindicated this Friday that Washington “will continue” discussing with Moscow.

Blinken also said Griner’s sentence highlights the Russian government’s “use of unlawful detention to further its own agenda by using individuals as political pawns.”

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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 body 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 that she was 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.

Griner came 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 US citizens currently detained in Russia and whose release Washington seeks “at all costs.” 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.”

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According to several US media, it would be about exchanging a famous Russian arms dealer arrested in the United States, Viktor Bout, for 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 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 Brittney Griner. “May God make sure that our countries reach an agreement,” Alla Bout told the news agency Ria Novosti.

Neither Russia nor the United States confirmed it and Moscow insists on its desire to keep the negotiations confidential, annoyed by the statements of US officials.

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

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