Kremlin says it’s open to talking about possible prisoner swap for Brittney Griner


MOSCOW (AP) — The Kremlin said Friday it was open to talking about a possible prisoner swap involving U.S. basketball star Brittney Griner, but strongly cautioned Washington against disclosing the matter.

Griner, a two-time US Olympic champion and eight-time WNBA Phoenix Mercury star, has been detained in Russia since February 17 after Moscow airport police said they found vaping cartridges containing cannabis oil. in his luggage.

A judge on Thursday found the 31-year-old athlete guilty of drug possession and trafficking and sentenced her to nine years in prison. The politically charged case comes amid high tensions between Moscow and Washington over Russia’s military action in Ukraine.

In an extraordinary move, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov last week, urging him to accept a deal under which Griner and Paul Whelan, an American imprisoned in Russia for espionage, would be released.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (center) and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (right) attend the East Asia Summit Foreign Ministers’ Meeting during the 55th Meeting of the ASEAN foreign ministers in Phnom Penh on August 5, 2022.

ANDREW HARNIK via Getty Images

Both Lavrov and Blinken were in Cambodia on Friday for a meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Blinken didn’t even glance at his Russian counterpart as they took their seats at an East Asia summit.

Lavrov told reporters that Blinken did not try to contact him while they were attending the ASEAN meeting.

“We were separated by only one person at the discussion table, but I didn’t feel his desire to catch up with me. My buttons are all up,” he said when asked about Washington’s statement that Blinken would try to button Lavrov for a quick interaction in Phnom Penh.

Lavrov said Moscow was “ready to discuss” a prisoner swap, but the topic should only be discussed via a dedicated Russian-American channel that US President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin have agreed to. established during their meeting in Geneva in June 2021.

“If the Americans try again to engage in public diplomacy and make strong statements about their intention to take certain actions, that’s their business, I would even say their problem,” Lavrov said. “Americans often struggle to keep quiet and professional work agreements.”

In Moscow, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov made the same point more harshly, saying that “the United States has already made mistakes trying to solve such problems through ‘microphone diplomacy’. They are not resolved that way.

He, too, stressed that any discussion of a possible swap should be held through the previously established confidential channels that Putin and Biden agreed to at last year’s summit.

Brittney Griner listens to the verdict on August 4, 2022.
Brittney Griner listens to the verdict on August 4, 2022.

Evgenia Novozhenina/Pool Foto via AP

“Such mechanisms exist, but they will be questioned if the discussion continues in the public domain,” Peskov said. He said, “If we discuss the nuances related to the issue of exchanges via the media, no exchange will ever take place.”

People familiar with the US proposal said it was considering trading Griner and Whelan for a notorious Russian arms dealer, Viktor Bout. He is serving a 25-year sentence in the United States after being convicted of conspiracy to kill American citizens and aiding a terrorist organization.

The call between Blinken and Lavrov marked the highest-level known contact between Washington and Moscow since Russia sent troops to Ukraine more than five months ago, underscoring the public pressure the White House has had to contend with. face to free Griner.

Griner was arrested on her way back to play for a team in Russia, where she has competed since 2014. Blinken said Friday that her conviction and sentence “compounds the injustice done to her.”

“This highlights our very serious concern about the Russian legal system and the Russian government’s use of wrongful detentions to advance its own agenda by using individuals as political pawns,” he said.

On Thursday, Biden denounced the Russian judge’s verdict and sentence as “unacceptable” and said he would continue to work to bring Griner and Whelan home.

David Rising in Phnom Penh, Cambodia contributed to this report.

Follow AP’s coverage of the Brittney Griner case at https://apnews.com/hub/brittney-griner



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