Washington/Moscow, Jul 29 (EFE).- The top diplomats of the United States and Russia spoke with each other Friday for the first conversation since Moscow launched its invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters after the telephone call that he and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov discussed the situation in Ukraine, global food shortages and a possible exchange of prisoners.
“We had a frank and direct conversation. I pressed the Kremlin to accept the substantial proposal that we put forth on the release of Paul Whelan and Brittney Griner,” he said during a press conference in Washington with visiting Japanese officials.
Whelan is a former US Marine serving a 16-year sentence for espionage. Griner, an Olympic gold medalist and WNBA star who plays for a Russian team during the off-season, is on trial for cannabis possession.
CNN reported this week that US officials had offered to swap jailed Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout for the return of the two Americans. Neither Washington nor Moscow have confirmed that such an offer was made.
“I also emphasized that the world expects Russia to fulfill its commitments under the deal it reached with Ukraine, Turkey, and the United Nations on grain shipments from Ukraine,” Blinken said.
That pact stipulates that Ukraine will de-mine its Black Sea ports, while Russia pledges to assure safe passage for ships carrying grain.
“I also made clear to Foreign Minister Lavrov that in light of recent statements coming from the Kremlin about their plans to proceed with the further annexation of Ukrainian territory – indeed, the foreign minister’s own words about replacing democratically elected Ukrainian government as well as being part of their ongoing plans – those plans would never be accepted,” the secretary said.
Blinken appeared to refer to Lavrov’s comment last week that Russia would occupy more of Ukraine if the West supplied President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s government with longer-range missiles.
In its readout of Friday’s call, the Russian Foreign Ministry emphasized Ukraine and global food security.
Lavrov, according to a statement, told the secretary of state that “the continued arming of the armed forces of Ukraine and nationalist battalions with US and NATO weapons, which are being used against civilians on a large scale, is only prolonging the agony of the Kyiv regime by dragging out the conflict and increasing the number of victims.”
On food security, Lavrov complained to Blinken that the US has yet to fulfill commitments to exempt Russian food and fertilizer shipments from sanctions.
Regarding the potential prisoner swap, Lavrov “strongly advised a return to professional dialogue in the context of ‘quiet diplomacy’ without any dubious media leaks,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said.
In April, Trevor Reed, a US citizen alleged to have assaulted a Russian police officer, was freed in exchange for convicted drug smuggler Konstantin Yaroshenko. EFE