The United States says it has made a ‘substantial offer’ to try secure the release of basketball star Brittney Griner and former marine Paul Whelan both detained in Russia.
Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov says Moscow would soon propose a time for a call with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in which Blinken has said he wants to discuss an exchange of prisoners held in Russian and US jails.
Blinken said on Wednesday that Washington had made a “substantial offer” to obtain the release of US basketball star Brittney Griner and former marine Paul Whelan, both detained in Russia.
A source cited by the Reuters news agency said that Washington was willing to exchange convicted arms trafficker Viktor Bout, jailed in the United States, as part of such a deal.
Blinken and Biden have not spoken since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24. Families of the US detainees have been increasing pressure on President Joe Biden, most recently in the case of two-time Olympic gold medallist Griner, who was arrested on drugs charges at a Moscow airport on February 17.
Speaking at a news conference following an SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organisation) ministerial meeting in Tashkent, Lavrov said that talks on prisoner exchanges had been taking place since a summit in Geneva last year – where Presidents Vladimir Putin and Joe Biden had agreed to nominate officials to look into the issue.
He said his ministry was not involved in that, but “nevertheless, I will listen to what he [Blinken] has to say”. Lavrov said he would talk to Blinken when he returned to his office.
“It’s clear this is unlikely to work out today. But in the coming days, we will offer our American colleagues a convenient date,” he said.
Lavrov noted that his ministry was not responsible for questions around prisoner exchanges, adding, “But I will nevertheless listen to what he has to say.”
From his point of view, the Russian foreign minister said he wanted to hear how the US intended to fulfil its obligations on the implementation of the grain deal under UN auspices.
“Because, if it’s about Russian grain, US sanctions, in particular, have not permitted the contracts to be implemented in their full scope,” Lavrov said. He noted embargoes on Russian ships, along with restrictions on insuring and financing freight.
Russia has linked allowing the shipment of Ukrainian grain to the easing of Western sanctions to facilitate the export of its own grain and fertilisers.