Russia confirmed yesterday that talks were taking place on a prisoner exchange between Moscow and Washington, but it did not lead to a result, after the US Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, announced that he would talk “in the coming days” with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, to discuss an American offer in this regard. .
Blinken said in a press conference, Wednesday evening, that he will speak “in the coming days” with his Russian counterpart, to discuss an American offer to reach the release of Americans in Moscow, stressing that the phone conversation “will not be for negotiations on Ukraine.”
“It is my intention to raise an issue that is a priority for us: the release of Paul Whelan and Britney Greiner, who have been wrongfully detained, and who should be allowed to return to their country,” Blinken said.
He added, “We made an offer weeks ago to facilitate the release” of the American detainees, noting that “our government has communicated frequently and directly about this proposal, and I will use the conversation to follow up personally.”
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said in a statement that Presidents Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin had ordered prisoner exchange talks, explaining that the negotiations “are being conducted by the relevant authorities. No practical result has been achieved so far.”
She pointed out that this issue has been constantly coming back since the summit held by the two countries’ presidents in June 2021 in Geneva.
And American media reported that the matter may relate to the exchange of the two American prisoners for Victor Bout, a Russian arms smuggler who was sentenced to 25 years in prison in the United States.
But relatives of Bott and Welgrainer said they were not informed of any negotiations. “We talked (Tuesday) over the phone and Victor knows nothing about negotiations between Russia and the United States to exchange him,” RIA Novosti news agency quoted Alla Butt, the wife of a Russian arms smuggler, as saying.
“Of course we assume that such negotiations can take place, but we do not talk about them because I do not have any information,” she added.
Lawyers for Grayner, who is currently on trial after her arrest in February for cannabis possession, confirmed upon her arrival in Moscow that they had not been informed of the conversations.
Lawyer Maria Blagovolina said on the Telegram application that “lawyers do not participate in the negotiations. From a legal point of view, the exchange can only take place after the ruling” in the Grainer case. “In any case, we would be happy if Britney can go home soon,” she added.
President Joe Biden is facing mounting pressure to release Greiner, who faces up to 10 years in prison, and her husband has accused the US administration of not doing enough to secure her release.
Whelan, who was a security official at an auto parts company and a former Marine, was arrested by Moscow in December 2018 on charges of possessing sensitive materials. He was convicted of espionage in June 2020 and sentenced to 16 years in prison.
In a statement, his family expressed their appreciation for the efforts of the Biden administration and hoped that Russia would accept this or some other concession in order to secure his release. The United States and Russia conducted a prisoner exchange in April during the Ukraine War, during which Russia released former Marine Trevor Reed in exchange for Russian pilot Konstantin Yaroshenko, who was convicted of drug smuggling in the United States.
In response to a question about a possible exchange with Victor Bout, the White House spokesman did not deny this, but emphasized that these are sensitive negotiations. John Kirby, the spokesman for national security issues, said President Biden “is prepared to take extraordinary measures.”
“We hope Russia will discuss this positively,” he added.
This will be the first phone call between Blinken and Lavrov since February 15, when the US Secretary of State warned Russia against invading Ukraine. But President Vladimir Putin launched his attack nine days later, prompting Washington and its allies to impose harsh sanctions on Russia and work to isolate Moscow on the international stage. Blinken told reporters that the phone conversation “will not witness negotiations on Ukraine,” stressing that “any negotiations on Ukraine are conducted by the decision of its people.”
The US secretary added that his country, which pumps billions of military aid to Ukraine, “has no illusions” about Russia’s willingness to participate “meaningfully and constructively” to end the war. “At the same time, we will continue to do everything in our power to strengthen Ukraine’s position on the battlefield,” he said. Blinken indicated that he will also discuss with Lavrov the Russian-Ukrainian agreement to export 25 million tons of grain, which was reached last week in Istanbul with Turkish mediation and UN sponsorship.
The phone call between Blinken and Lavrov will not witness negotiations on Ukraine.
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