Russia Says Ready To Discuss Prisoner Swap With the U.S. After Griner Sentence

Russia has disclosed that it was now ready to discuss swapping prisoners with the United States. This announcement was made a day after the WNBA star Britney Griner was sentenced to spend 9 years in prison for a drug offense at a Russian court.

The Russian minister had announced that his country was now willing to negotiate a prisoner swap arrangement, but only under the predetermined diplomatic channel both the United States President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin had agreed upon.

There is a special channel that has been agreed upon by the presidents, and no matter what anyone says publicly, this channel remains relevant,” the Russian minister Sergey Lavrov revealed at a press conference. Responding to this, the Secretary of State Antony Blinken commented that Lavrov’s comment had insinuated that Russia was “prepared to engage through channels we’ve established, and we’ll be pursuing that.”

On Thursday, the President had promised that his administration will relentlessly try to bring Griner and Paul Whelan home by all means possible. Just like Griner, Paul Whelan was also sentenced by a Russian court to spend 16 years in prison for espionage. The United States has offered to swap both Americans with a convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, but Russia seems to have no interest in this offer.

The 31-year-old WNBA star, Britney Griner had played in Russia for the past seven years. She had admitted to the court that the drugs were hers but missed it when packing for her flight to Russia as she was running late. Though she had pleaded for mercy as it was an honest mistake, her lawyers had said that “The court completely ignored all the evidence of the defense, and most importantly, the guilty plea.” The court then went ahead to sentence her to nine years in prison in addition to a fine of about $16,000.

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Russia has also advised the United States against its decision to publicize this information to increase the pressure. The Russian minister had warned that such acts of public diplomacy and loud announcements would not work in their favor. Instead, Lavrov had warned that it could endanger the high-stakes efforts to achieve a swap. “If the Americans decide to resort to public diplomacy again and make loud announcements, this is their business, their problem,” Lavrov announced.

While we knew it was never the legal process that was going to bring our friend home, today’s verdict is a sobering milestone in the 168-day nightmare being endured by our sister. We remain heartbroken for her, as we have every day for nearly six months. We remain grateful to and confident in the public servants working every day to return her to her family and us,” her WNBA team had said to the press.

The Council’s chairman has asserted that Russia should have accepted the prisoner swap offer when it was made. When asked if the US was going to consider a counteroffer, he said: “I don’t think we go so far as to even call it a counteroffer.” Considering the timing of Russia’s announcement to consider a prisoner swap and the harsh sentence given to the two-time gold medalist, it appears that Russia plans to use this American as a political pawn in the imminent negotiations.

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