Russia “ready to discuss” prisoner swap now that Brittney Griner sentenced

Russia "ready to discuss" prisoner swap now that Brittney Griner sentenced

Russia said Friday it was “ready to discuss” a prisoner swap with Washington at the presidential level, a day after the drug conviction of U.S. basketball star Brittney Griner.

Despite tensions soaring between Russia and the U.S. since the launch of Moscow’s military intervention in Ukraine, the former Cold War rivals appeared to be edging closer to a new prisoner exchange.

The White House has urged Russia to accept its offer of a deal for the release of Griner and former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, who was sentenced to 16 years in prison on espionage charges.

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Friday said Moscow was willing to discuss the matter.

“We are ready to discuss this subject, but only within the framework of the (communication) channel established by presidents Putin and Biden,” Lavrov told a press conference on a visit to Cambodia.

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“There is a special channel established by the presidents and despite certain public declarations, it is still functional,” he added.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who spoke to Lavrov about the exchange last Friday, said Washington will be “pursuing” discussions with Russia.

He also said Griner’s conviction put a spotlight on the “Russian government’s use of wrongful detentions to advance its own agenda using individuals as political pawns.”

WNBA player Griner was sentenced to nine years in a Russian penal colony Thursday and ordered to pay a fine of one million rubles ($16,590) for possessing and smuggling narcotics.

The two-time Olympic basketball gold medalist and Women’s NBA champion was detained at a Moscow airport in February after she was found carrying vape cartridges with cannabis oil in her luggage.

The Phoenix Mercury player was coming to Russia to play club basketball with UMMC Ekaterinburg during the U.S. off-season — a common path for American stars seeking additional income.

Griner pleaded guilty to the charges, but said she did not intend to break the law or use the banned substance in Russia.

“I want the court to understand it was an honest mistake that I made while rushing, under stress, trying to recover from post-Covid and just trying to get back to my team,” Griner said in her final statement before the…

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