How soon can Brittney Griner return to the United States as part of a prisoner exchange with Russia? Perhaps not much, judging by comments from officials in Washington and Moscow on Thursday.
There was no sign of movement the day after Secretary of State Anthony J. Blinken reported that the United States “made a substantial offer” to release the American basketball star.
The proposal, according to a person briefed on the talks, involves a swap of a Russian arms dealer serving a lengthy term in a US prison for Ms Greener, who has been in custody since February on drug possession charges, and Paul N. Whelan, a former Marine detained in Russia in 2019 and charged with espionage. The State Department classified both Americans as “wrongfully detained” and referred their cases to a special hostage division.
Mr Blinken did not confirm the details of the proposal, but said the two countries had “repeatedly and directly communicated” about the matter. Speaking at the State Department on Wednesday, Mr. Blinken also said he was going to talk to his Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, in the coming days to persuade him to accept the offer.
But the men didn’t say anything – their last known conversation was before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February – and on Thursday, State Department spokesman Ned Price appeared to express some disappointment at Russia’s response.
“The fact that now, a few weeks later, we are where we are, I think you can see this as a reflection of the fact that the situation has not changed to the extent that we would like,” he said.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said on Thursday that Moscow had not received a request from Washington for a talk between Mr. Lavrov and Mr. Blinken, Russian news agency Interfax reported. But the ministry said separate statement that the possible exchange of Russian and American citizens currently taking place was the subject of discussion between Washington and Moscow.
Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said that while negotiations are ongoing, “no concrete result has been achieved.”
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov refused journalists’ questions about the negotiations on the exchange of prisoners. “We know that such issues are discussed without such disclosure of information,” Peskov said. “Usually the public finds out about this when the agreements are already being implemented.”
It was impossible to know to what extent the public statements were posturing or tactics.
But on Thursday, Ms. Zakharova was not reassured by Mr. Blinken’s desire to negotiate with Mr. Lavrov, who is currently abroad, visiting leaders in Egypt, Ethiopia, Uganda and the Republic of the Congo, to convince Russia that it is the Western powers, not Russia, who are blocking the supply of much-needed grain.
“Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will consider this request when time permits,” she told Russian news agency Interfax. “Now he has a busy schedule of real work in terms of international contacts.
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