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Russia wants US discretion in negotiations to free WNBA star Griner

Talks have been held between the US and Russia on a possible deal to free basketball star Brittney Griner, who is detained by Moscow, but the Kremlin has indicated negotiations must be discreet.

July 28, 2022
By Vladimir Isachenkov
28 July 2022

The Kremlin has warned a possible prisoner swap with the United States involving American basketball star Brittney Griner needs to be negotiated quietly without fanfare.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Washington has offered Russia a deal that would bring home Griner and fellow American Paul Whelan.

A person familiar with the matter said the US government proposed trading convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout for Whelan and Griner.

Asked about the US offer, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov replied that prisoner swaps were typically negotiated discreetly behind the scenes.

“We know that such issues are discussed without any such release of information,” Peskov told reporters during a conference call.

“Normally, the public learns about it when the agreements are already implemented.”

He emphasised that “no agreements have been finalised” and refused to provide further details.

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In a separate statement, Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Russian and US officials have conducted negotiations about possible prisoner exchanges and “there has been no concrete result yet”.

Blinken’s comments marked the first time the US government publicly revealed any concrete action it has taken to secure Griner’s release.

The two-time Olympic gold medallist and player for the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury was arrested at a Moscow airport in mid-February when inspectors found vape cartridges containing cannabis oil in her luggage.

In a sharp reversal of previous policy, Blinken said he expects to speak with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to discuss the proposed prisoner deal and other matters.

It would be their first phone call since Russia sent its troops into Ukraine.

Griner’s trial on drug charges started in a court outside Moscow this month and she testified Wednesday that she didn’t know how the cartridges ended up in her bag but she had a doctor’s recommendation to use cannabis to treat career-related pain.

The 31-year-old has pleaded guilty but said she had no criminal intent in bringing the cartridges to Russia and packed in haste for her return to play in a Russian basketball league during the WNBA’s offseason. 

She faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted of transporting drugs.

On Wednesday, Griner testified that an interpreter translated only a fraction of what was being said while she was detained at Moscow’s airport and officials told her to sign documents but “no one explained any of it to me”.

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