TOP STORIES The US and Russia are ready to negotiate the...

The US and Russia are ready to negotiate the release of Griner

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The day after Britney Griner was sentenced to a Russian maximum-security prison, senior U.S. and Russian diplomats said Friday their governments are ready to negotiate the release of both the American basketball star and Paul N. Whelan, who is incarcerated. . is also imprisoned in Russia.

Diplomats, Secretary of State Anthony J. Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, said in separate press conferences that the talks would proceed through the channel set earlier by their two presidents.

But perhaps indicative of how tense relations between the two countries are, the two men made their comments after sitting next to each other – but not speaking – during a meeting of East Asian foreign ministers and partner countries.

On Thursday, a Russian judge sentenced Ms Griner to nine years in prison. US officials said she was “wrongfully detained” and that her trial was politically motivated as relations between the two countries remain strained due to Russia’s war in Ukraine.

According to people familiar with the offer.

After Friday’s meeting, Mr. Lavrov took the opportunity to taunt Mr. Blinken for not trying to talk to him.

“There was only one person between us at the table today,” Mr. Lavrov said at a press conference broadcast by the Foreign Ministry. “I didn’t see him trying to catch me.

Asked about Mr. Lavrov’s remarks and Ms. Griner’s condemnation, Mr. Blinken stressed that the discussions would move forward through previously established channels.

“As you know, we have put forward a significant proposal on which Russia should cooperate with us,” Mr. Blinken said. “And what Foreign Minister Lavrov said this morning and stated publicly is that they are ready to interact through the channels that we have created for exactly this, and we will pursue this.”

Russian officials criticized the United States for what it called public negotiations for a prisoner exchange.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov renewed that criticism on Friday. “These exchanges will never happen if we start discussing some nuances of the exchange in the press,” Mr. Peskov told reporters in Moscow.

Despite signals that a potential exchange is possible, Russian officials insist that legal procedures must be completed first. After hearing the verdict on Thursday, Ms Griner’s lawyers said they would appeal the verdict, which would delay the start of her term in a penal colony.

In another important meeting with possible implications for the war in Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir V. Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan had their second face-to-face conversation in less than three weeks in the Russian Black Sea resort town. Sochi on Friday

Mr. Erdogan has become an important intermediary between Ukraine and Russia, which is looking for ways to break out of the economic and political isolation imposed by the West due to its invasion of Ukraine. Turkey, a NATO member and long-time EU aspirant, played an important role in brokering an agreement between the two belligerent countries to resume supplies of Ukrainian grain across the Black Sea.

In a brief speech before the start of the leaders’ discussion, Putin thanked Erdogan for Turkey’s role in brokering a Ukrainian grain export deal that also allowed Russian grain and fertilizer to be exported. Particular attention was paid to economic issues, and Mr. Putin expressed the hope that the talks would lead to the expansion of trade and economic ties.

Mr. Erdogan said the steps taken on issues such as energy, grain, the Black Sea and transport are examples of the important role that Turkey and Russia play in the region.

Mr. Erdogan is walking a fine line in order to retain the ability to negotiate with both Russia, NATO’s adversary, and Western members of the alliance. Turkey has insisted on its refusal to join Western sanctions against Russia, irritating its NATO allies, but Mr. Erdogan has taken the important step of relaxing his initial objections to Sweden and Finland joining the alliance as a bulwark against Russian aggression.

Russia is an important energy supplier to Turkey, providing a quarter of the country’s crude oil imports and almost half of its natural gas purchases last year.

For its part, Turkey is becoming an important transshipment point for goods bound for Russia as many Western freight companies no longer ship goods to Russia for fear of violating sanctions, Turkish newspaper Dunya reported on Thursday.

But sharp differences remain between the two leaders.

Their countries have supported the opposing sides in the civil war in Syria, neighboring Turkey. The Kremlin has shed blood and money to support President Bashar al-Assad, while Turkey, which has taken in more than 3.7 million Syrian military refugees, is backing an opposing rebel group and threatening a new military offensive in northern Syria. They have also been involved in opposing sides in a border dispute between Azerbaijan and Armenia that escalated into a war in 2020.

Their relationship regarding weapons is also complex. In recent years, Turkey has denied its NATO partners the purchase of Russian anti-aircraft missiles. And now Russia, jaded by war-related Western sanctions on technologies such as guidance systems for missiles and drones, is urgently seeking equipment.

“Military-technical cooperation between the two countries is constantly on the agenda,” Peskov told reporters on Wednesday, according to the Interfax news agency.

In Ukraine, officials in the southern city of Mykolaiv announced drastic steps on Friday: the area would be put on lockdown and a strict curfew over the weekend as law enforcement searched for enemy collaborators.

Officials say the decision comes amid a significant escalation in Russian shelling of the city, which has seen only about two dozen days without violence since the war began on Feb. 24.

In recent weeks, officials have increasingly warned of the presence of sabotage forces in the city, including those responsible for aiming enemy fire at military installations. ‌

Vitaliy Kim, the military governor of the Mykolaiv region, urged residents to stock up on food and water and cooperate with any law enforcement officials they may encounter over the weekend. Public transport will also be stopped.

Mr. Kim did not elaborate on how law enforcement plans to find enemy collaborators, but in recent weeks he has offered a cash reward of $100 out of his own pocket to citizens who turn in suspected collaborators.

“Honest people have nothing to worry about,” Mr. Kim said. “We will work on collaborators.”

Edward Wong reported from Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Neil McFarquhar from Istanbul and Natalie Kitroeva from Mexico City.

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