World · August 5, 2022

After Brittney Griner’s conviction, Russia is ready to discuss prisoner exchange with the United States, Lavrov says

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told reporters in Cambodia that the Kremlin is “ready to discuss this issue, but within the framework of the channel that has been agreed upon by the presidents,” the state news agency RIA Novosti reported.

“There is a specific channel that has been agreed upon by [Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Joe Biden]and whatever anyone says publicly, this channel will remain in effect, ”Lavrov reported Friday at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Summit.

Shortly thereafter, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said at the same summit that the United States would “pursue” talks with Russia.

“We have made, as you know, a substantial proposal that Russia should engage with us. And what Foreign Minister Lavrov said this morning and publicly stated is that they are ready to engage through the channels we have established to make their own. This. And we will pursue it, “Blinken told reporters at a press conference.

Comments from both sides suggest that a negotiation process, which has already proved complex, could accelerate in the coming days.

Russian government officials last month demanded that a former colonel in the country’s national intelligence agency, convicted of murder in Germany last year, be included in the US proposal to swap notorious arms dealer Viktor Bout with Griner and Paul Whelan, several sources familiar with the discussions told on CNN.
Whelan, a US citizen, has been detained by Russia since 2018 and was convicted by a Russian court in 2020 on a spying charge which he strenuously denied. Griner’s belief has raised similar concerns that she is being used as a political pawn in Russia’s war against Ukraine. The US State Department classifies the couple as being wrongfully detained.

Griner, a star of the Women’s National Basketball Association, pleaded guilty to carrying cannabis oil in her luggage while traveling through a Moscow airport on February 17. She tested in court that she was aware of Russia’s strict drug laws and had no plans to introduce cannabis to the country, saying she was in a hurry and “packing up”.

Griner inside a defendant 'cage before the court's verdict was announced Thursday.

Prior to Thursday’s verdict, Griner apologized to the court and asked for leniency in an emotional speech. “I never meant to hurt anyone, I never wanted to endanger the Russian population, I never wanted to break any law here,” he said.

“I made an honest mistake and I hope your sentence doesn’t end my life here. I know everyone continues to talk about political and political pawn, but I hope it is far from this courtroom,” he continued.

Griner’s lawyers had hoped that his guilty plea and remorseful plea would result in a more lenient sentence.

His sentence, Blinken told reporters, “turns on the spotlight [Washington’s] very significant concern for the Russian legal system and the Russian government’s use of illegal detentions to advance its agenda by using individuals as a political pawn. “

“The same goes for Paul Whelan,” added Blinken.

On Friday, a US State Department official told reporters that there had been no “serious response” from Russia to an exchange proposal. The same official said Blinken and Lavrov had not met at the summit in Cambodia and that Blinken had no intention of doing so.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that Russia would not publicly discuss the prospect of a move. “If we discuss through the press some nuances of the exchange, then these exchanges will never take place. The Americans have already made this mistake,” he said on Friday.

Peskov, when asked if Putin could forgive Griner, said that “there is a certain [legal] procedure that the convict can use, in accordance with the law. “According to Russian law, in order to initiate the leniency procedure, a convict must write a petition to the Russian president.

Before the start of Thursday’s WNBA game between Griner’s Phoenix Mercury and the Connecticut Sun, members of both teams shook their arms around center court and a 42-second moment of silence was held for Brittney Griner.

Towards the end of those 42 seconds, the crowd members started chanting: “Take her home! Take her home!”

This story has been updated with further developments.

Martin Goillandeau, Anna Chernova and Daniel Allman of CNN contributed to this report.