US ‘pursuing’ Russian prisoner swap offer to free Brittney Griner

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The United States plans to take Russia’s offer to hold presidential talks to secure a prisoner swap deal for Brittany Griner, says Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

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His remarks at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) meeting in Cambodia came after the Kremlin warned the US against making talks public through “microphone diplomacy”.

After being arrested at a Moscow airport in February, Griner was sentenced on Thursday to nine years in prison after pleading guilty to possessing cannabis vape cartridges in a Russian penal colony.

Mr Blinken revealed last week that the US is pursuing a prisoner exchange and offered to release convicted arms dealer Victor Bout for Ms Griner and ex-Marine Paul Whelan.

The top US diplomat and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov were both in Cambodia on Friday, but did not directly discuss the swap, according to the Associated Press.

Mr Lavrov told reporters at the ASEAN summit that Moscow was “ready to discuss” an exchange, but that it was to be done in a private channel between Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin.

According to the Associated Press, Mr. Lavrov said, “If Americans try to engage in public diplomacy again and make a loud statement about their intention to take certain steps, that’s their business, I’m their problem too.” I will say.”

Antony Blinken and Russia’s Sergei Lavrov at the ASEAN meeting in Cambodia on Friday

US basketball star Brittany Griner, 31, was sentenced on Thursday to nine years in prison

“Americans often have trouble seeing agreements on a calm and professional job.”

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov spoke even more strongly on Tuesday, saying that “megaphone diplomacy and public exchange of ideas” will not lead to any success, According to Reuters.

Mr Lavrov said his US counterpart made no effort to speak to him during the Southeast Asian countries meeting, the Associated Press reported.

This was despite reports that Mr Blinken would try to buttonhole Mr Lavrov for a quick conversation in Phnom Penh.

“At the discussion table we were separated by just one person, but I didn’t feel his urge to hold him. My buttons are all over the place,” he said.

The US and Russia agreed to establish a diplomatic back channel when the two leaders met in Geneva in June 2021.

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