Russia says it is ready to discuss prisoner swap with US

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(Reuters) – Russia said on Friday that it is ready to discuss a prisoner swap with the United States through an existing diplomatic channel, the day a Russian court convicted basketball star Brittany Griner of drug offenses. Was sentenced to nine years in prison.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said President Vladimir Putin and his US counterpart Joe Biden had previously agreed on a diplomatic channel that should be used to discuss such matters.

“We are ready to discuss this topic, but within the framework of the channel that was agreed upon by President Putin and Biden,” Lavrov said during a visit to Cambodia.

“If Americans decide to once again resort to public diplomacy…, that’s their business and I’d even go as far as to say that’s their problem.”

The Kremlin previously warned the United States against turning to “megaphone diplomacy” in Griner’s case, saying it could only derail efforts to secure a potential swap.

Griner’s sentence – which Biden called “unacceptable” – could pave the way for a prisoner swap that would involve a 31-year-old athlete serving a 25-year prison sentence in the United States and a prolific Russian arms dealer.

The United States has already made what Secretary of State Antony Blinken called a “substantial offer” to secure the release of Americans detained in Russia, including Griner and former Marine Paul Whelan.

‘A serious proposal’

White House national security spokesman John Kirby said after Griner’s sentencing that the US had made a serious offer to Russia.

“We urge them to accept it,” he said. “They should have acknowledged it weeks ago when we first made it.”

Kirby did not provide further details about the US offer.

Sources familiar with the situation told Reuters that Washington has offered Russian arms smuggler Bout an exchange for Griner and Whelan.

Russia was trying to add convicted murderer Vadim Kasyakov, imprisoned in Germany, to the proposed swap, a source familiar with the proceedings told Reuters.

Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medalist and star of the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA), was arrested on February 17 in Sheremetyevo, Moscow, for carrying hashish oil.

The United States argued that he was unfairly detained and was being used by Moscow as a political bargaining chip. Russian officials dismissed the US claims, saying Griner broke Russian law and that justice should be done accordingly.

Griner, who was prescribed medical cannabis in the United States to relieve pain from chronic injuries, said she had made an honest mistake by inadvertently packing her vape cartridges as she ran for her flight.

He pleaded guilty to the changes against him but insisted that he did not intend to break Russian law.

Cannabis is illegal in Russia for both medicinal and recreational purposes.

(Reporting by Reuters; Editing by Guy Faulkenbridge and Mark Heinrich)