Foreign Secretary says Russia ready to discuss prisoner swap with US after Griner sentencing
Originally posted: 05 AUG 22 03:11 ET
Updated: 05 AUG 22 14:08 ET
By Rob Picheta, Josh Pennington and Vasco Cotovio, CNN
(CNN) – The United States and Russia have indicated they are ready to hold prisoner swap talks, a day after the basketball star Britney Griner was convicted of drug trafficking and sentenced to nine years in prison for transporting less than one gram of cannabis oil through a Moscow airport.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters in Cambodia that the Kremlin is “ready to discuss this topic, but within the framework of the chain that has been agreed by the presidents”, the state news agency reported. RIA Novosti.
“There is a specified channel which has been agreed upon by [Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Joe Biden]and no matter what anyone says publicly, this string will remain in effect,” Lavrov reportedly said Friday at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit.
Shortly after, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said at the same summit that the United States would “continue” talks with Russia.
“We have presented, as you know, a substantial proposal on which Russia should engage with us. And what Foreign Minister Lavrov has said this morning and has said publicly is that they are ready to engage through the channels we have established to do just that. And we will pursue that,” Blinken told reporters at a press briefing.
President Joe Biden said later Friday that he was hopeful about efforts to secure Griner.
” I have good hope. We are working hard,” Biden told reporters outside the White House after signing a bill.
Comments from both sides suggest that a negotiation process, which has already proven complex, could speed up in the coming days.
Russian government officials asked last month that a former colonel of the country’s national spy agency, which was convicted of murder in Germany last year, be included in the plan to exchange notorious Arms Dealer Viktor Bout for Griner and Paul Whelan, multiple sources familiar with the discussions told CNN.
Whelan, a US citizen, has been detained by Russia since 2018 and was sentenced by a Russian court in 2020 on espionage charges which he strenuously denied. Griner’s sentencing has raised similar concerns that she is being used as a political pawn in Russia’s war on Ukraine. The US State Department classifies the couple as wrongfully detained.
Griner, a star of the Women’s National Basketball Association, pleaded guilty to carrying cannabis oil in her luggage as she walked through a Moscow airport on February 17. She testified in court that she was aware of Russia’s strict drug laws and had no intention of bringing cannabis into the country, saying she was in a hurry and ‘stressed’ .
Ahead of Thursday’s verdict, Griner apologized to the court and asked for clemency in an emotional speech. “I never wanted to hurt anyone, I never wanted to endanger the Russian population, I never wanted to break the laws here,” she said.
“I made an honest mistake and I hope in your decision it doesn’t end my life here. I know everyone is talking about political pawn and politics but I hope it’s far of this courtroom,” she continued.
Griner’s attorneys had hoped his guilty plea and statements of remorse would result in a more lenient sentence.
His sentencing, Blinken told reporters, “highlights [Washington’s] a very significant concern about the Russian legal system and the Russian government’s use of wrongful detentions to advance its own agenda by using individuals as political pawns.
“So is Paul Whelan,” Blinken added.
Earlier on Friday, a US State Department official told reporters there had been no “serious response” from Russia to a proposed swap. The same official said that Blinken and Lavrov did not meet at the summit in Cambodia and that Blinken had no intention of doing so.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Russia would not publicly discuss the prospect of a transfer. “If we discuss in the press certain nuances related to the exchanges, then these exchanges will never take place. Americans have made that mistake before,” he said on Friday.
Peskov, who was asked if Putin could pardon Griner, said that “there is a certain [legal] procedure to which the convicted person may have recourse, in accordance with the law”. According to Russian law, to initiate clemency proceedings, a convict must write a petition to the Russian president.
Before the start of Thursday’s WNBA game between Griner’s Phoenix Mercury and the Connecticut Sun, members of both teams linked arms around center court, and a 42-second moment of silence was observed for Brittney Griner.
Towards the end of those 42 seconds, members of the crowd began chanting, “Take her home! Bring her home!
This story has been updated with additional developments.
™ & © 2022 Cable News Network, Inc., a WarnerMedia company. All rights reserved.
COPYRIGHT 2022 THE-CNN-WIRE (TM) & © 2021 CABLE NEWS NETWORK, INC., A TIME WARNER COMPANY. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.