Lexington-Fayette, Kentucky 2022-08-05 18:38:31 –
MOSCOW (AP) — The Kremlin said Friday it was free to discuss a potential prisoner exchange involving American basketball star Britney Griner, but strongly cautioned Washington not to make the matter public.
Griner, a two-time US Olympic champion and eight-time All-Star with the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury, has been detained in Russia since February 17. After police at Moscow airport announced they had found her vape cartridges containing cannabis oil in her luggage.
A judge on Thursday found the 31-year-old athlete guilty of drug possession and smuggling and sentenced him to nine years in prison. The politically charged case comes amid heightened tensions between Moscow and Washington over Russia’s military actions in Ukraine.
Asked at the White House on Friday about the prospect of securing Griner’s release, President Joe Biden said, “I hope…we are working hard.”
US Secretary of State Antony Brinken met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov last week and asked him to accept a deal to release Griner and Paul Whelan, an American imprisoned in Russia on suspicion of spying.
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 taking a seat at the East Asia Summit.
Lavrov told reporters that Brinken did not try to contact him while they were attending the ASEAN meeting.
When asked about Washington’s statement that Blinken would try to buttonhole Lavrov, he replied, “We were the only one at the table to discuss, but I didn’t know he was trying to get me.” I didn’t feel like I was there.My buttons are all in place.”
Lavrov said Moscow is “ready to discuss” prisoner swaps, a topic that will be established when Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin meet in Geneva in June 2021. Agreed, said it should be discussed only through dedicated channels between Russia and the United States.
“If Americans ever again attempt to engage in public diplomacy and loudly express their intention to take certain measures, I would even say it’s their job and I would say it’s their problem.” , often have trouble keeping to agreements on calm and professional work.”
In Moscow, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov made the same point more harshly, saying, “The United States has already made mistakes and is trying to solve such problems through ‘micro-diplomacy.’ is not resolved to
He also stressed that any discussion of a possible deal should take place through the previously established clandestine channels that Putin and Biden agreed to at their summit last year.
“Such a mechanism exists, but if the public debate continues, it will raise questions,” Peskov said. He said, “When discussing the nuances associated with the issue of exchanges through the media, exchanges never take place.”
People familiar with the U.S. proposal say it envisages notorious Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout swapping Griner for Wilan. He is serving a 25-year sentence in the United States after being convicted of conspiring to kill a U.S. citizen and providing assistance to a terrorist organization.
The call between Blinken and Lavrov marks the highest level of contact known between Washington and Moscow since Russia sent troops to Ukraine more than five months ago, and the White House released Griner. He stressed the public pressure he faced to
Brinken said Friday that her conviction and sentence “further compound the injustices that have been done against her.”
“This reflects our very serious concerns about the Russian legal system and the use of unjustified detention by the Russian government to use individuals as political agents to advance its own policies. It’s in the spotlight,” he said.
On Thursday, Biden condemned the Russian judge’s verdict and ruling 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. https://apnews.com/hub/brittney-griner