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Kremlin insists discussions around possible Griner swap be held without publicity

The Kremlin mentioned Friday that it is open to speaking a couple of possible prisoner alternate involving American basketball star Brittney Griner however strongly warned Washington towards publicizing the difficulty.

Griner, a two-time U.S. Olympic champion and an eight-time all-star with the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury, has been detained in Russia since Feb. 17 after police at Moscow’s airport mentioned they discovered vape cartridges containing hashish oil in her baggage.

A choose convicted the 31-year-old athlete Thursday of drug possession and smuggling, and sentenced her to 9 years in jail. The politically charged case comes amid excessive tensions between Moscow and Washington over Russia’s army motion in Ukraine.

Asked on the White House Friday concerning the prospects of securing Griner’s launch, President Joe Biden mentioned: “I’m hopeful … We’re working hard.”

In a rare transfer, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke final week to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, urging him to just accept a deal below which Griner and Paul Whelan, an American jailed in Russia on espionage expenses, would go free.

WATCH | Griner sentenced to 9 years in jail:

Basketball star Brittney Griner sentenced to 9 years in Russian jail on drug expenses

WNBA star Brittney Griner has been sentenced to 9 years in a Russian jail on drug possession and smuggling expenses — a politically charged transfer denounced by U.S. President Joe Biden.

Lavrov and Blinken have been each in Cambodia on Friday for a gathering of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Blinken didn’t even look at his Russian counterpart as they took their seats at an East Asia Summit.

Lavrov informed reporters that Blinken did not attempt to contact him whereas they have been attending the ASEAN assembly.

“We were separated by just one person at the discussion table, but I didn’t feel his desire to catch me. My buttons are all in place,” he mentioned when requested about Washington’s assertion that Blinken would attempt to buttonhole Lavrov for a fast interplay in Phnom Penh.

Lavrov mentioned Moscow was “ready to discuss” a prisoner swap however that the subject ought to solely be mentioned through a devoted Russia-U.S. channel that Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed to determine after they met in Geneva in June 2021.

“If the Americans again try to engage in public diplomacy and make loud statements about their intention to take certain steps, it’s their business, I would even say their problem,” Lavrov mentioned. “The Americans often have trouble observing agreements on calm and professional work.”

In Moscow, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov made the identical level extra harshly, saying “the U.S. already has made mistakes, trying to solve such problems via ‘microphone diplomacy.’ They are not solved that way.”

He, too, emphasised that any discussions on a possible commerce ought to be held through the beforehand established confidential channels that Putin and Biden comply with throughout final 12 months’s summit.

“Such mechanisms exist, but they will be thrown into doubt if the discussion continues in the public domain,” Peskov mentioned. He mentioned: “If we discuss any nuances related to the issue of exchange via media, no exchange will ever take place.”

WATCH | Griner makes remaining plea:

Brittney Griner addresses choose in Russian courtroom

Olympic gold medallist and WNBA star Brittney Griner requested the Russian choose overseeing her trial to not ‘finish her life’ with a protracted jail sentence, and mentioned she hoped politics between Russian and the U.S. wouldn’t issue into the sentencing. When escorted from the courtroom in handcuffs, Griner mentioned, ‘I like my household.’

Highest-level contact since invasion of Ukraine

People acquainted with the U.S. proposal have mentioned it envisions buying and selling Griner and Whelan for a infamous Russian arms dealer, Viktor Bout. He is serving a 25-year sentence within the U.S. after being convicted of conspiracy to kill U.S. residents and offering support to a terrorist group.

The name between Blinken and Lavrov marked the highest-level recognized contact between Washington and Moscow since Russia despatched troops into Ukraine greater than 5 months in the past, underlining the general public stress that the White House has confronted to get Griner launched.

Griner was arrested as she was returning to play for a staff in Russia, the place she has competed since 2014. Blinken mentioned Friday that her conviction and sentence “compounds the injustice that has been done to her.”

“It puts a spotlight on our very significant concern with Russia’s legal system and the Russian government’s use of wrongful detentions to advance its own agenda using individuals as political pawns,” he mentioned.

On Thursday, Biden denounced the Russian choose’s verdict and sentence as “unacceptable” and mentioned he would proceed working to deliver Griner and Whelan house.