Brittany Greener: US offers prisoner swap. Russia’s answer

The United States revealed on Wednesday that it has offered Russia the repatriation of women’s basketball star Brittany Griner and another imprisoned American, Paul Whelan.

MOSCOW, Russia — The Kremlin warned Thursday that a prisoner swap with the United States is possible with American involvement. Brittany Greiner, basketball star It should be negotiated quietly without fuss.

US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said on Wednesday that Washington had done so He proposed to Russia He brings Griner and another American prisoner, Paul Whelan, home. The U.S. government condemned the trade offer, a person familiar with the matter said Russian arms dealer Victor fights for Whelan and Greiner.

Asked about the US proposal, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said prisoner swaps are usually negotiated behind the scenes.

“We know that such issues are being discussed without releasing such information,” Peskov told reporters on a conference call. “Typically, people learn about it when the agreements are already in place.”

He emphasized that “no agreement has been finalized” and refused to give further details.

In a separate statement, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said that Russian and American officials had held talks on a possible prisoner exchange and “no concrete result has been reached yet.”

Zakharova said: “We proceed from the assumption that the interests of both sides should be taken into account during the negotiations.

Blinken’s comments were the first time the US government had publicly disclosed any concrete steps it had taken to secure Greiner’s release. The two-time Olympic gold medalist and Phoenix Mercury WNBA player was arrested at a Moscow airport in mid-February when inspectors found vape cartridges containing cannabis oil in her luggage.

In a sharp reversal from earlier policy, Blinken said he expected to speak with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to discuss the proposed prisoner deal and other matters. This will be their first phone call since sending Russian troops to Ukraine.

For years, Russia has expressed interest in releasing Bot, a Russian arms dealer once known as the “Merchant of Death.” In 2012, he was sentenced to 25 years in prison for illegally selling millions of dollars worth of guns.

Griner’s trial on drug charges began in a court outside Moscow this month, and he testified Wednesday that he did not know how the cartridges ended up in his bag, but that he had a doctor’s recommendation to use cannabis to treat work-related pain.

The 31-year-old has pleaded guilty, but said she had no criminal intent to bring the cartridges to Russia and was in a rush to return to play in the Russian Basketball League during the WNBA’s offseason. He faces 10 years in prison if convicted of drug possession.

On Wednesday, Griner testified that a language interpreter translated only part of what he was detained at the Moscow airport and officials told him to sign the documents, but “nobody explained any of it to me. “

Griner also said that in addition to the poor translation, he received no explanation of his rights or access to a lawyer during the initial hours of his detention. He said he used a translation app on his phone to communicate with a customs officer.

His arrest comes amid heightened tensions between Moscow and Washington ahead of the February 24 deployment of Russian troops to Ukraine. Griner’s five-month detention has drawn sharp criticism from his teammates and supporters in the United States.

The Biden administration has faced political pressure to release Griner and other Americans the United States has labeled “wrongfully detained” — a designation Russian officials have vehemently denied.

Whelan, a corporate security executive from Michigan, was sentenced to 16 years in prison in 2020 on espionage charges. He and his family have been severely condemned. He insisted on his innocence. The US government has called these accusations false.

Washington has long resisted prisoner swaps out of concern that it might encourage more hostage-taking and create a false equality between a detained American and a justly convicted foreign national.

In April, however, the administration struck a deal to exchange assassinated US Marine Corps veteran Trevor Reed for jailed Russian pilot Konstantin Yaroshenko.

Matthew Lee and Eric Tucker in Washington contributed to this report.

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