Russia ready to discuss prisoner swap with US after Griner goes to prison

MOSCOW—Russia said Friday it was ready to discuss a private prisoner swap with the United States, one day after a Russian court jailed US basketball star Britney Griner for nine years on drug charges.

Lawsuits against two-time Olympic gold medalist and Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) star Griner have thrown her into geopolitical havoc after Russia sent troops to Ukraine on February 24. .

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that President Vladimir Putin and US President Joe Biden had previously agreed on diplomatic channels to be used to discuss a potential prisoner exchange.

“We are ready to discuss this topic, but within the channels agreed by Putin and Biden,” Lavrov said during his visit to Cambodia.

“If Americans decide to rely on public diplomacy again…that’s their job, and I would even say it’s their problem.”

US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said Washington was ready to engage with Moscow through established diplomatic channels. He said Griner’s conviction highlighted her unjust detention by Russia and compounded the injustices done against her.

The Kremlin has been tight-lipped about the possibility of a prisoner exchange, saying it would never happen, even if it was discussed in the media.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, “Americans have already made that mistake and have suddenly decided to use megaphone diplomacy to solve these problems.

“This is not how they are resolved.”

Peskov declined to comment on the court’s ruling against Griner. When asked if she could be pardoned, he said the leniency procedure is coded in Russian law.

Griner’s verdict, which Biden called “unacceptable,” could pave the way for a prisoner exchange involving the 31-year-old athlete and a prolific Russian arms dealer serving a 25-year prison sentence in the United States. There is

The US has already made what Mr. Blinken said was a “substantial offer” to secure the release of Americans detained in Russia.

A U.S. basketball player detained at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport and later charged with illegal cannabis possession before a court verdict was issued on August 4, 2022 in Khimki, a suburb of Moscow, Russia. Britney Griner (Evgenia Novozhenina/Pool/Reuters)

“Serious Proposal”

White House National Security Press Secretary John Kirby said the United States had made serious proposals to Russia after Griner’s ruling.

“We urge them to embrace it,” he said. “They should have embraced it a few weeks ago when we first made it.”

Kirby did not provide details about the US proposal.

Russia and the United States conducted a prisoner exchange in April, exchanging former Marine Trevor Reed for Russian pilot Konstantin Yaroshenko, who was serving a 20-year prison sentence in the United States.

Griner was arrested at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport on February 17 with e-cigarette cartridges containing hash oil in his luggage.

The United States claimed that she was detained in error and used as a bargaining chip by the Russian government. Russian officials dismissed the U.S. allegations, saying Griner had violated Russian law and she should be brought to justice accordingly.

Griner said he made the honest mistake of accidentally stuffing a vape cartridge while rushing to catch a flight.

She pleaded guilty to the alterations made to her, but insisted she did not intend to break Russian law.

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