Moscow, Aug 5 (EFE).- Russia said Friday it was ready to discuss a prisoner swap with the United States a day after US basketball star Brittney Griner was sentenced to nine years in prison by a Russian court for drug possession and smuggling.
“We are ready to discuss this topic, but within the framework of the channel that was agreed upon by presidents Putin and Biden,” Russia’s foreign minister Sergey Lavrov told during a press conference in Cambodia.
Lavrov’s comments came after White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Washington had given Moscow a “substantial offer” to release Griner.
“As you all know, we have made a substantial offer to bring her and Paul Whelan home. We urge Russia to accept that proposal,” Jean-Pierre said Thursday.
Lavrov insisted the prisoner swap would have to take place within the existing diplomatic channel which in April allowed for the exchange of American student Trevor Reed, sentenced to nine years in prison for resisting arrest, for the Russian pilot Konstantin Yaroshenko, sentenced in the US to 20 years for drug smuggling.
“If the Americans decide to once again resort to public diplomacy, (…) that is their business and I would even say that it is their problem,” the foreign minister said.
Griner, 31, was arrested in February after customs officials at Moscow airport found a small amount of cannabis oil in her luggage.
The sentence is one year less than the maximum of 10 allowed under Russian law, and six months less than the prosecution had demanded.
The Olympic and world champion, who played for UMMC Ekaterinburg during the WNBA’s off-season, has also been ordered to pay a fine of one million rubles (more than $16,000).
Biden issued a statement after the ruling, which he called “unacceptable” and accused Russia of “wrongfully detaining” Griner.
“I call on Russia to release her immediately so she can be with her wife, loved ones, friends, and teammates,” he said.
“My administration will continue to work tirelessly and pursue every possible avenue to bring Brittney and Paul Whelan home safely as soon as possible.”
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken last week proposed to Lavrov the exchange of Griner and Whelan, who was sentenced to 16 years for espionage, for the so-called “merchant of death” Victor Bout, who is serving 25 years in a US prison on weapons trafficking charges. EFE