U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to accept a “significant proposal” to bring home Americans Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan, Blinken told reporters Friday.
Blinken would not characterize Lavrov’s responses, or say whether an agreement was “any more or less likely” after the call.
Blinken on Wednesday declined to confirm reports that the Biden administration had offered convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout in a prisoner swap for the two Americans.https://8ff99d513b0a40cd40ba4c122cb0d00a.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html
The Blinken and Lavrov call was the first between the two officials since the start of the war in Ukraine, the secretary of State said earlier this week.
Griner, a WNBA star, is on trial in Russia after being arrested in Moscow in February, when officials found cannabis oil in her luggage. She acknowledged she had the oil when she arrived in Russia, but maintains she had no criminal intent.
Whelan, a former Marine, was detained in December 2018 on espionage charges. He was sentenced to 16 years in Russian prison a year and a half later, a result observers have said violated his human rights.
On the call, Blinken also urged Russia to act on its commitments to end a blockade on Ukrainian ports, in order to allow grain exports. He reiterated his concern about Russia potentially annexing additional parts of Ukraine — or, as he put it, Putin “gobbling up as much Ukrainian territory as he can.”
Earlier this month, the Russians proposed adding to the prisoner swap Vadim Krasikov, a former FSB colonel held in Germany for the murder of a Chechen citizen,according to CNN.
Speaking on CNN on Friday evening, National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communication John Kirby called the counter-proposal a “bad-faith attempt to avoid a very serious offer and proposal that the United States.”
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