Russia said on Friday it was “ready to discuss” a prisoner swap with Washington at the presidential level, a day afterof US basketball star Brittney Griner.
Despite the rising tensions between Russia and the US since its inceptionthe former Cold War rivals appeared to be moving closer to a new prisoner exchange.
The White House urged Russia to accept its offer of a deal to release Griner and former US Marine Paul Whelan, who was.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Friday that Moscow was willing to discuss the issue.
“We are ready to discuss this issue, but only within the (communication) channel established by Presidents Putin and Biden,” Lavrov told a news conference during his visit to Cambodia.
“There is a special channel established by the presidents and despite some public statements, it is still working,” he added.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, wholast Friday, he said Washington would “continue” discussions with Russia.
He also said Griner’s conviction put a spotlight on “the Russian government’s use of illegal detentions to advance its own agenda by using individuals as political pawns.”
WNBA player Griner was sentenced to nine years in a Russian penal colony on Thursday and ordered to pay a fine of one million rubles ($16,590) for drug possession and smuggling.
The two-time Olympic basketball gold medalist and women’s NBA champion was arrested at a Moscow airport in February after she was found to be carrying cannabis oil vapor cartridges in her luggage.
The Phoenix Mercury player was coming to Russia to play club basketball with UMMC Ekaterinburg during the US off-season – a common route for American stars looking for extra income.
Grinerbut said he has no intention of breaking the law or using the banned substance in Russia.
“I want the court to understand that it was an honest mistake that I made while in a hurry, under pressure, trying to recover from post-Covid and just trying to get back to my team,” Griner said in her final statement before the verdict.
Griner had testified that she was cleared by a US doctor to use medicinal cannabis to relieve pain from her multiple injuries and that she had never failed a drug test.
The use of medical marijuana is not allowed in Russia.
Griner’s legal team said it plans to appeal the “absurd” verdict.
President Biden called Griner’s conviction “unacceptable” and said Washington would “work tirelessly” to secure her release.
Blinken said Washington has made a “substantial proposal” to trade Griner and Whelan.
The highest-ranking Russian prisoner in the United States isa 55-year-old arms dealer, the so-called “Death Dealer”, who is serving 25 years in prison.
There is no official confirmation that Washington has offered to trade him.
Booth’s wife, Alla, offered her condolences to Griner’s family on Friday, saying she hoped her husband and the American athlete would be able to return home.
“Sympathy has no nationality and nationality, it is a universal human emotion,” he told the Russian news agency RIA Novosti, expressing hope that Russia and the US “will come to an agreement.”
Moscow and Washington have already held a prisoner exchange since the start of Moscow’s offensive in Ukraine.
In April, Washingtonfor convicted drug trafficker Konstantin Yaroshenko.
In asince Griner surrendered to the White House last month, the WNBA player wrote how terrified she is that she could be jailed in Russia “forever.”
Griner’s wife, Sherrell, told “CBS Mornings” that when she read the letter, she felt the fear Griner was experiencing.
“She’s probably the strongest person I know, so she doesn’t say things like that incessantly. That means she’s really terrified that she might never see us again. You know, I share the same feelings,” Cherelle said.