WASHINGTON. On Friday, Secretary of State Anthony J. Blinken spoke with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov and urged him to accept the offer to release Britney Greener and Paul N. Whelan, but did not report a breakthrough.
Mr. Blinken told reporters at a press conference that he had spoken to his Russian counterpart on the phone, and it was their first conversation in the weeks leading up to Russia’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine. He declined to say how Mr. Lavrov reacted.
“I urged Foreign Minister Lavrov to push this proposal forward,” he said. “I’m not going to characterize his answer and I can’t give you an estimate of how much I think everything is more or less likely.”
AT his account During the call, the Russian Foreign Ministry said that, speaking about a possible exchange of citizens in custody, Mr. Lavrov proposed to return to the procedure of “quiet diplomacy”, without “speculative information campaigns.”
Ms Griner, a WNBA star who played for the Russian team during the off-season, is facing trial in Russia and facing up to 10 years in prison on drug charges. The 31-year-old athlete was detained at a Moscow airport about a week before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine after customs officials found hash oil in her luggage.
Mr Whelan, a former head of maritime and corporate security, was detained in 2018 at a Moscow hotel where he was staying at a friend’s wedding. In 2020, a Russian court sentenced him to 16 years in prison for espionage, a charge he and his family denied.
The State Department classified Mr. Whelan and Ms. Greener as “wrongfully detained.”
Last month, the Biden administration offered to trade Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, who is currently serving a 25-year sentence in a U.S. federal prison, for Ms. Griner and Mr. Whelan, according to a person briefed on the matter.
Mr. Blinken also said that he pressed Mr. Lavrov to comply with the recent Russian agreement to allow the passage of Ukrainian grain from the Black Sea ports, and told him that the world would never accept further Russian annexation of Ukrainian territory.
He warned Mr. Lavrov against “bogus referendums” designed to “falsely demonstrate that people in these parts of Ukraine are somehow seeking to become part of Russia.”
Such actions, Mr. Blinken said, “will result in significant additional costs for Russia if it follows through with this plan.”
Mr. Lavrov, according to the Russian Foreign Ministry, said that the situation with grain “is complicated by US sanctions.
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” He also stated that the Russian forces “strictly comply with the norms of international law.”
He added that Russia’s goals in Ukraine “will be fully achieved.”