TOP STORIES Lavrov offered time to discuss a possible prisoner exchange...

Lavrov offered time to discuss a possible prisoner exchange for Britney Griner

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The Russian foreign minister said Friday he would offer a convenient date for a phone call with Secretary of State Anthony J. Blinken to discuss a possible prisoner swap.

The Biden administration offered to hand over imprisoned Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout in exchange for the release of American basketball star Britney Griner and former Marine Paul N. Whelan, who are in Russian custody. a person familiar with negotiations.

The two Americans have become pawns in a high-stakes diplomatic game as relations between Moscow and Washington deteriorated sharply following Russia’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine.

On Wednesday, Mr. Blinken said Washington “has put a substantial proposal on the table,” although he declined to discuss the details. He added that he plans to discuss the proposal soon with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, whom he has not spoken to since Russia invaded Ukraine more than five months ago.

During a trip to Uzbekistan on Friday, Mr. Lavrov said he learned of Mr. Blinken’s statement on television during a visit to Africa this week. He said that any telephone conversation between the two men must be conducted from his office and that Russia asked the American side to “clarify the issues they want to discuss.”

Mr. Lavrov said the prisoner exchange was discussed during a January meeting in Geneva between President Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin, and both leaders instructed their government bodies to continue discussing it. Mr. Lavrov said his ministry was not involved in this discussion, but he would listen to what Mr. Blinken had to say.

The US government is under increased pressure from relatives of US citizens to secure their release from Russian prisons.

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 invaded Ukraine, and customs officials found hash oil in her luggage.

Mr Whelan 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.
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Mr. Booth is serving a 25-year federal prison sentence for conspiring to sell weapons to people who said they planned to kill Americans. Russia condemned the persecution of Mr. Bout in America as politically motivated.

In April, after a difficult diplomatic mission, Russia released Trevor Reid, another former Marine, in exchange for Konstantin Yaroshenko, a Russian pilot who was sentenced to a long prison term in the United States on cocaine trafficking charges.

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