Photo: Evgenia Novozhenina/EPA
Russia is ready to discuss a prisoner swap for imprisoned Americans, its foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said, but added the Kremlin would resist public pressure to have US basketball star Brittney Griner and others held in Russian prisons. to be detained, to be released.
Lavrov’s comments came a day after Griner was sentenced to nine years in prison for drug possession that was seen as a gamble to demand a trade for high-profile Russians in prison in the US, including arms dealer Viktor Bout.
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“We are ready to discuss the problem” [of a swap]but this must be done through the channel approved by the presidents, Putin and Biden,” Lavrov said at a press conference in Cambodia.
Referring to a back channel set up by Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin, he said “no matter who says what in public, this channel remains relevant”.
That backchannel turned out to have been successful in arranging the release of Trevor Reed, an ex-Marine who had been detained in Russia for more than two years before being exchanged in April for Konstantin Yaroshenko, a Russian pilot who had been detained for more than two years. . ten years on charges of drug smuggling.
But Lavrov also warned that Russia would not respond to “megaphone diplomacy,” demanding that all negotiations be conducted discreetly.
“If this is another case of the Americans resorting to public diplomacy and loud statements about their pending steps, it is their business, or I would even call their problem, because the Americans often fail to keep the agreement to calm, professional work,” he said. said.
On Friday afternoon at the White House, Joe Biden said he was “hopeful” about the prospects for the basketball star.
When asked if he had a comment about Griner after signing a bill, the US president said, before leaving the event, “I’m hopeful. We are working hard.”
Griner and her legal team tried to avoid politics during her trial. “I know everyone keeps talking about ‘political pawn’ and ‘politics,’ but I hope this is far from this courtroom,” Griner said in a closing statement on Thursday.
Lavrov said he had not discussed the issue of an exchange with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who also attended the Asean conference in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov declined to comment on a possible trade for Bout, the arms dealer. “These exchanges will never happen if we start discussing the nuances of the exchange in the press,” he told reporters on Friday.
Griner’s American teammates at the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury were in tears as they watched on television before the game as their star player received her punishment and begged for a pardon.
Then they set out to play their scheduled game against the Connecticut Sun, but not before the sports players and officials stood arm in arm on the field for 42 seconds — Griner’s team number is 42, as fans shouted “we are BG” and “bring her along.” “. home,” the New York Times reported.