MOSCOW – Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has said he is open to a telephone conversation with US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken to discuss a possible prisoner swap involving American basketball player Britney Griner.
Blinken said on Wednesday that Washington had offered Russia a deal that would return Griner and another imprisoned American, Paul Whelan. A source familiar with the matter said the US government offered to trade convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout for Whelan and Griner.
Speaking during a visit to Uzbekistan, Lavrov mentioned that his ministry received an official request from the US for a phone call following Blinken’s announcement. The head of Russian diplomacy added that he would be ready upon his return to Moscow and that the time of the call was being worked out.
Lavrov said he was open to discussing the exchange of prisoners, although the Foreign Ministry did not participate in previous discussions on this issue.
“I will listen to what he has to say,” Lavrov added.
Asked about the US proposal on Thursday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said prisoner swaps are usually negotiated quietly behind the scenes.
“We know that such issues are being discussed without disclosing information,” Peskov told reporters on a conference call. Usually the public finds out about this when the agreements are being implemented.”
With Blinken’s comments, the US government publicly announced for the first time any concrete steps it had taken to free Griner.
Two-time Olympian and WNBA player Phoenix Mercury was arrested in mid-February at a Moscow airport when inspectors found cannabis oil vape cartridges in her luggage.
Griner’s arrest came at a time of heightened tensions between Moscow and Washington before Russia moved troops into Ukraine on February 24. Griner’s five-month imprisonment drew criticism from her teammates and supporters in the United States.
Her drug-dealing trial began this month in a Moscow Region court, and on Wednesday she testified that she did not know how the bullets ended up in her bag, but that she was given a doctor’s recommendation to use cannabis to treat sports-related pain. .
The 31-year-old pleaded guilty but added that she had no criminal intent to bring the cartridges to Russia and she hastily packed them when she returned to play in the Russian basketball league during the WNBA offseason. She faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted of drug trafficking.
Vladimir Isachenkov, Associated Press