One day after Britney Griner was accused of cannabis possession and convicted to nine years in jail, Russia’s top diplomat gave the impression on Friday that the Kremlin was ready to negotiate a prisoner swap with the United States.
Sergei Lavrov, the Russian minister of foreign affairs, said that President Putin and President Biden had already agreed that a confidential diplomatic route should be utilized to explore the possibility of exchanging prisoners “no matter what anyone says publicly.”
While attending the summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Cambodia, Lavrov made the following statement to the press in reference to the possibility of a swap: “We are ready to discuss this topic, but within the framework of the channel that was agreed upon by presidents Putin and Biden.”
He added: “If the Americans decide to once again resort to public diplomacy … that is their business and I would even say that it is their problem.”
Antony Blinken, the Secretary of State for the United States, who is Lavrov’s counterpart in the United States, agreed with him that Washington was willing to pursue negotiations with Moscow via the usual diplomatic channels.
Paul Whelan, a former star of the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) and a retired Marine, is currently serving an espionage sentence in a Russian prison. There have been rumors that he could be traded for Victor Bout, an arms dealer also known as “the Merchant of Death,” who is currently serving 25 years in the United States.
Blinken issued a statement on Thursday, immediately after the reading of Griner’s conviction in the Khimki court, which is located just outside of Moscow. In the statement, Blinken referred to Griner’s punishment “compounds the injustice of her wrongful detention.”
The Kremlin has been tight-lipped about the possibility of a swap, stating that if prisoner swaps were publicized in the media, the swaps would never happen. However, this has not stopped speculation about the possibility of a swap.
“The Americans have already made that mistake, suddenly deciding to use megaphone diplomacy to resolve these issues,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. “This is not how they are resolved.”
Peskov chose not to comment on the verdict for Griner. When questioned whether she might be granted mercy, he said that the process for granting such an act was codified in Russian law.
In order to obtain the release of Griner and Whelan, the United States had already offered what Blinken referred to as a “substantial offer.”
“We urge them to accept it,” John Kirby, White House national security spokesperson, said. “They should have accepted it weeks ago when we first made it.”
Griner made a heartfelt plea for forgiveness and asked to be pardoned just before the announcement of the decision on Thursday.
“I never meant to hurt anybody, I never meant to put in jeopardy the Russian population, I never meant to break any laws here,” she said.
“I made an honest mistake and I hope that in your ruling that it doesn’t end my life here. I know everybody keeps talking about political pawn and politics, but I hope that, that is far from this courtroom,” she added.