Sergey Lavrov: We’re ‘ready to discuss’ prisoner swap with the US
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov signaled on Friday that Russia wants to negotiate a prisoner swap with the U.S.
The remark comes one day after a Russian court sentenced American professional basketball player Brittney Griner to nine years in prison on charges of drug-smuggling for carrying cannabis oil, a sentencing that U.S. President Joe Biden called “unacceptable.”
During a visit Friday to Cambodia, Lavrov said “we are ready to discuss this topic.” He added that prisoner-swap talks should happen within a special diplomatic channel that he said was previously agreed on by Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Biden said on Thursday that he will work “tirelessly” to bring home both Griner and Paul Whelan, a former marine who was previously sentenced to 16 years in Russian prison for spying.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Griner and Whelan were “wrongfully detained,” and has called the return of the U.S. citizens a top priority. Blinken spoke to Lavrov last week in order to press for their release.
The White House has said it’s made a “substantial offer,” which CNN reported includes a prolific Russian arms dealer serving a 25-year prison term in the U.S., but also Russian Vadim Krasikov, who is sentenced to life imprisonment in Germany for a contract killing in a Berlin park.
During a White House press briefing on Thursday, a spokesman said Moscow “should have accepted it weeks ago when we first made it,” without elaborating on the details of the potential prisoner swap offer.
Griner has been in Russian custody for more than five months, after she was arrested at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport, when security forces found cannabis oil in her luggage. Griner pleaded guilty, but her lawyer said that the oil had been prescribed to the athlete by her doctor as a painkiller. Griner’s defense plans to challenge the court decision.