Wednesday , August 10 2022

As Brittney Griner stands trial, Moscow says there’s no deal yet on a prisoner exchange.

With Russia and the United States continuing to discuss prisoner swaps that could result in the release of the basketball star Brittney Griner, Russia’s foreign ministry said on Thursday that no deal had yet been reached.

The Biden administration has offered to free the imprisoned Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout to secure the release of Ms. Griner and Paul N. Whelan, two Americans imprisoned in Russia who the State Department says were wrongfully detained, according to a person familiar with the negotiations.

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken declined to get into any specifics on Wednesday but acknowledged that the United States had “put a substantial proposal on the table” and that he would soon press for the Americans’ return in his first conversation with his Russian counterpart since Russia invaded Ukraine five months ago.

Mr. Blinken said that the United States and Russia had “communicated repeatedly and directly on that proposal,” and that he expected to raise it soon directly with Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov.

Russia’s foreign ministry said on Thursday that Moscow had not received a request from Washington for a conversation between Mr. Lavrov and Mr. Blinken, according to Interfax, a Russian news agency. But the ministry said in a separate statement that possible exchange of Russian and American citizens currently held in custody had been a topic of discussion between Washington and Moscow.

Maria Zakharova, the foreign ministry’s spokeswoman, said that while negotiations were ongoing, “no concrete result has been achieved.”

The Kremlin has long fought for the release of Mr. Bout, who is serving a 25-year federal prison sentence for conspiring to sell weapons to people who said they planned to kill Americans.

Russia has held Ms. Griner, 31, since mid-February, when she was arrested at a Moscow airport on charges involving hashish oil found in her luggage. She has pleaded guilty to drug charges and said in a court appearance on Wednesday that she had accidentally packed a small amount of the cannabis-related substance, which she uses at the direction of a doctor to manage pain.

Mr. Whelan, 52, a former Marine and security company executive, was detained at a Moscow hotel in 2019 and charged with espionage. The State Department has classified both Mr. Whelan and Ms. Griner as “wrongfully detained” and referred their cases to a special hostage affairs office.


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