After Griner Gets Jail, Russia Is Ready To Negotiate Swap With US

  • Kremlin warns US against ‘megaphone diplomacy’
  • White House says swap proposal serious
  • Biden calls Griner verdict ‘unacceptable’
  • This content was produced in Russia, where the law limits coverage of Russian military operations in Ukraine.

MOSCOW, Aug. 5 (Reuters) – Russia said Friday it was ready to discuss a prisoner swap with the United States privately, a day after a Russian court jailed American basketball star Brittney Griner for nine years for a drug offense.

The case against Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medalist and star of the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA), plunged her into a geopolitical maelstrom after Russia sent troops to Ukraine on Feb. 24.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said President Vladimir Putin and US President Joe Biden had previously agreed on a diplomatic channel to be used to discuss possible prisoner exchanges.

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“We are ready to discuss this topic, but within the framework of the channel agreed by Presidents Putin and Biden,” Lavrov said during a visit to Cambodia.

“If the Americans decide to resort to public diplomacy again…that’s their business and I would even say it’s their problem.”

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Washington was willing to engage with Moscow through established diplomatic channels. He said Griner’s conviction exposed her wrongful detention by Russia and further exacerbated the injustice done to her.

The Kremlin remained silent about the prospect of an exchange, saying that if the prisoner exchanges were discussed in the media, they would never take place.

“The Americans have already made that mistake and have suddenly decided to use megaphone diplomacy to solve these problems,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

“This is not how they are solved.”

Peskov declined to comment on the court’s ruling on Griner. When asked if she could be pardoned, he said the leniency procedure was governed by Russian law.

Griner’s sentence — which Biden called “unacceptable” — could pave the way for a prisoner swap that will see the 31-year-old athlete and a prolific Russian arms dealer serve 25 years in the United States.

The United States has already made what Blinken called a “substantial offer” to secure the release of Americans held in Russia, including Griner and former Marine Paul Whelan.


White House national security spokesman John Kirby said after Griner’s conviction that the United States had made Russia a serious proposal.

“We urge them to accept it,” he said. “They should have accepted it weeks ago when we first made it.” read more

Kirby gave no further details about the US proposal.

Washington has offered to trade Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout for Griner and Whelan, sources familiar with the situation have told Reuters. read more

Russia had attempted to add convicted murderer Vadim Krasikov, who was imprisoned in Germany, to the proposed exchange, a source familiar with the proceedings also told Reuters.

Russia and the United States conducted a prisoner swap in April, exchanging former Marine Trevor Reed for Russian pilot Konstantin Yaroshenko, who was serving a 20-year prison sentence in the United States. read more

Griner was arrested on February 17 at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport with vape cartridges containing hash oil in her luggage.

The United States argued that she was wrongfully detained and used by Moscow as a political bargaining chip. Russian officials rejected the US claim, saying Griner had broken Russian law and should be judged accordingly.

Griner, who had prescribed medicinal cannabis in the United States to relieve the pain of chronic injuries, said she made an honest mistake by accidentally packing her vape cartridges while rushing to make her flight.

She pleaded guilty to the changes against her, but insisted she had no intention of breaking Russian law.

Cannabis is illegal in Russia for both medicinal and recreational purposes.

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Reporting by Reuters; adaptation by Guy Faulconbridge, Mark Heinrich and Ros Russell

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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