griner: US, Russia ready to hold talks over prisoner swap after Griner conviction


Russia’s Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov said on Friday the country was ready to discuss a prisoner swap with Washington at the presidential level right after the US basketball star Brittney Griner was jailed over drug charges.

“There is a specified channel that has been agreed upon by [Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Joe Biden]and no matter what anyone says publicly, this channel will remain in effect,” CNN reported Lavrov as saying at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit.

US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken later said at the same summit that the US will “pursue” talks with Russia.

Russia’s foreign minister Sergey Lavrov told reporters in Cambodia that the Kremlin is “ready to discuss this topic, but within the framework of the channel that has been agreed by the presidents,” CNN reported, citing the state news agency RIA Novosti.

US basketball star Brittney Griner was convicted of drug smuggling and sentenced to nine years in prison for carrying less than a gram of cannabis oil through a Moscow airport.

Earlier, the Russian government officials urged last month that a former colonel from the country’s domestic spy agency, who was convicted of murder in Germany last year, be included in the US’ proposed swap of notorious arms dealer Viktor Bout for Griner and Paul Whelan, CNN reported citing sources.

Whelan, a US citizen has been held by Russia since 2018 and was convicted by a Russian court in 2020 on espionage charges. Griner’s conviction has also raised similar concerns that she is being used as a political pawn in Russia’s war against Ukraine.

Griner, a Women’s National Basketball Association star, pleaded guilty to carrying cannabis oil in her luggage as she travelled through a Moscow airport on February 17. She testified in court that she was aware of Russia’s strict drug laws and had no intention of bringing cannabis into the country stating that she packed the drugs under extreme “stress”.

Griner apologized to the court in an emotional speech, saying “I never meant to hurt anybody, I never meant to put in jeopardy the Russian population, I never meant to break any laws here,” she said.

“I made an honest mistake and I hope that your ruling that doesn’t end my life here. I know everybody keeps talking about political pawns and politics, but I hope that that is far from this courtroom,” CNN reported quoting Griner as saying.

Earlier Friday, a US State Department official told reporters there had been no “serious response” from Russia on a proposed swap. The same official said Blinken and Lavrov had not met while at the Cambodia summit.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Russia would not discuss the prospect of a transfer publicly. “If we discuss through the press some exchange-related nuances, then these exchanges will never take place. The Americans have already made this mistake,” he said on Friday, as per CNN.



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