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Moscow Luke Warm to Brittney Griner Prisoner Exchange

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Moscow said Friday that it’s open to discussing a possible prisoner exchange involving American female basketball star Brittney Griner but warned Washington against publicizing the issue.

WNBA star Brittney Griner, a two-time Olympian and eight-time all-star with the Phoenix Mercury has been detained in Russia since Feb. 17 for allegedly having vape cartridges containing cannabis oil in her luggage.

The 31-year-old athlete was convicted Thursday of drug possession and smuggling and was sentenced to nine years in prison. Her conviction comes amid high tensions between Moscow and Washington over Russia’s actions in Ukraine.

President Biden told a media briefing Friday that he is hopeful that Griner will be released. “ We’re working hard to make things happen,” he said. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke last week to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

Viktor Bout

He urged the Kremlin to accept an exchange deal under which Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan, an American jailed in Russia on espionage charges, would be set free in exchange for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.

Bout, a former Soviet air force officer who allegedly became one of the world’s most prolific arms dealers, was arrested in Thailand in March 2008 in Bangkok as part of a joint U.S.-Thai sting operation. Agents posed as arms buyers for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.

According to some reports, Bout armed the Taliban and Northern Alliance enemies in Afghanistan before Sept. 11. Others claim he supplied the U.S. military in Iraq through a front company.

The Russian foreign minister said the Kremlin he was “willing to discuss” a prisoner swap but that the topic should only be discussed via dedicated Russia-U.S. channels.

“If the Americans continue to engage in public diplomacy and make loud statements about their intentions, it’s their problem,” Lavrov said. Americans often fail to comply with agreements requiring calm and professional behaviour.

The Kremlin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov made the same point more harshly, saying, “The U.S. has already made mistakes by trying to solve such problems through ‘microphone diplomacy.”

He stressed that any prisoner exchange discussions should occur through the previously established confidential channels Biden and Putin agreed upon at last year’s summit.

As Peskov put it, “These mechanisms already exist, but the discussion in the public square will eliminate them.” He said, “If we discuss any nuances related to the exchange issue via the US mainstream media, no exchange will ever occur.”

Brittney Griner Sentenced to 9 Years in Prison

Sentenced to 9 Years in Prison

The U.S. proposal involves trading Griner and Whelan for Viktor Bout, a notorious Russian arms trader. The U.S. sentenced him to 25 years after he was convicted of conspiracy to kill U.S. citizens and providing aid to a terrorist organization.

The talks between Blinken and Lavrov represented the highest level of communication between Washington and Moscow since Russian troops invaded Ukraine nearly five months ago, underlining the pressure on the White House to release Brittney Griner.

Brittney Griner was arrested while returning to Russia to compete for a team she has represented since 2014. In a statement on Friday, Blinken said that her conviction and sentence “compound the injustice she has suffered.”

As a result, it highlights the very serious concerns we have about the Russian legal system and the Russian government’s use of wrongful detentions for political ends,” he said.

Earlier this week, President Biden condemned the Russian judge’s verdict and sentence as “unacceptable” and pledged to keep working to bring Brittney Griner and Whelan home.

Source: AP

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