MOSCOW (AP) — The Kremlin warned Thursday that a possible prisoner swap with the United States involving basketball star Brittney Griner must be negotiated quietly and without fuss.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Wednesday that Washington had offered a trade for Griner and Paul Whelan. A source familiar with the matter said the US government has proposed trading Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout for Whelan and Griner.
Asked about the offer, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said prisoner swaps are usually negotiated behind the scenes.
“We know that those matters are discussed without disclosing information,” Peskov said during a virtual news conference. “Normally, the public finds out when the deals are consummated.”
He stressed that “no agreement has been finalized” and refused to go into details.
For her part, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zajarova said that officials from both countries have been negotiating possible prisoner exchanges “and there have been no concrete results yet.”
“We proceed from the basis that the interests of both parties must be taken into account during the negotiations,” Zajarova said.
It is the first time that the US government has publicly revealed that it has taken any concrete steps to secure Griner’s freedom. The two-time Olympic champion and WNBA player for the Phoenix Mercury was arrested at a Moscow airport in mid-February when inspectors found vape cartridges filled with cannabis oil in her luggage.
Blinken said he looked forward to speaking with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov about the prisoner swap proposal and other matters, in what would be their first telephone conversation since before Russian troops entered Ukraine.
Russia has for years expressed interest in the release of Bout, a Russian arms dealer dubbed the “merchant of death.” In 2012 he was sentenced to 25 years in prison for planning the illegal sale of weapons for millions of dollars.
At his trial in a court outside Moscow, Griner testified on Wednesday that he did not know how the cartridges appeared in his luggage, but that he had a doctor’s recommendation to use cannabis as a painkiller for pain from his career.
The 31-year-old has pleaded guilty but said she had no criminal intent in bringing the cartridges to Russia and hastily packed her suitcase to play in a Russian basketball league during the WNBA offseason. She faces a sentence of up to 10 years in prison for transporting drugs.