Russia ‘ready to discuss’ prisoner swap for Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan

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Moscow is “ready to discuss” a prisoner swap for WNBA star Brittney Griner and Marine Corps veteran Paul Whelan, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Friday.

Why it matters: Lavrov’s comments come a day after a Russian court found Griner guilty of drug possession and sentenced her to nine years in prison. Her sentence came nearly six months after she was arrested at a Moscow airport in February for possession of a hash oil vape cartridge.

  • Whelan, a 52-year-old corporate security executive, was arrested in Moscow in December 2018. He was accused of receiving and possessing a USB drive containing classified information. Russian authorities formally charged him with espionage in January 2019.
  • Whelan was sentenced to 16 years in prison in June 2020. His lawyers and his family have said he was set up by Russian intelligence and that he was unaware that the device contained classified information.
  • The US has proposed to trade Griner and Whelan for convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, who is serving a 25-year prison sentence for supplying weapons to a terrorist organization and conspiring to kill Americans.
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What they say: Lavrov said on Friday that Russia is “ready to discuss this topic” provided the talks take place through a “channel” agreed upon by President Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

  • “We have, as you know, made a substantial proposal on which Russia should work with us,” Blinken said at a news conference on Friday. “And what Foreign Minister Lavrov said this morning and said publicly is that they are willing to deploy through channels that we have set up to do just that, and we will pursue it.”
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The big picture: Russia held former Marine Trevor Reed in prison as of 2019 before releasing him in April. Moscow traded him for Konstantin Yaroshenko, a Russian citizen serving a 20-year prison sentence after being found guilty of conspiracy to smuggle more than $100 million worth of cocaine into the US

Go deeper: Brittney Griner sentenced to 9 years in Russian drug trial

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