Russia says it is ready to discuss the release of Americans detained in that country in a prisoner exchange deal through a diplomatic channel agreed upon by both countries.
“On the matter of persons who are convicted in Russia and in the United States … 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,” Russian state news agency RIA Novosti quoted Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov as saying on Friday.
“We are ready to discuss this topic, but within the framework of the channel that has been agreed by the presidents,” Lavrov told reporters at a news conference in Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh, according to RIA Novosti.
His statement comes in the wake of a Russian court sentencing American basketball player Brittney Griner to to nine years in prison on charges of drug smuggling.
Brittney, who plays center for the three-time WNBA Champion Phoenix Mercury, was detained in a Moscow airport in February on allegations that cartridges containing hashish oil had been found in her luggage. She had been entering the country to play for the Russian women’s professional basketball team, UMMC Ekaterinburg, in the Russian Premier League during the WNBA off-season.
At the end of her trial, judge Anna Sotnikova of a court in the town of Khimki also fined Brittney one million rubles ($16,590).
Responding to Brittney’s conviction, President Joe Biden called on Russia to release her immediately “so she can be with her wife, loved ones, friends, and teammates.”
Biden vowed that his administration will continue to work tirelessly and pursue every possible avenue to bring Brittney and Paul Whelan home safely as soon as possible.
Paul Whelan, a former U.S. marine, was arrested in Russia in 2018, and accused of spying. He received a 16-year prison sentence with the possibility of time in a labor camp.
White House national security spokesperson John Kirby said during a press conference on Thursday, “What I can tell you is that we put forth a serious proposal. And I know everybody is making some assumptions here about what that proposal is; I won’t go into detail about it.”
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said last month that the Biden administration has made a “substantial offer” to secure the release of Whelan and Brittney.
CNN reported that Washington has offered to release convicted Russian arms trafficker Viktor Bout in exchange for the two U.S. citizens, but the White House and the Department of State refused to reveal details of the proposed deal.
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