The Kremlin warned, Thursday, of the need to calmly negotiate a possible prisoner exchange deal with the United States that includes American basketball star Britney Greiner.
US Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, said on Wednesday that Washington had offered Russia a deal that would return Greiner and another imprisoned American, Paul Whelan. A person familiar with the matter said the US government had offered to trade convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout for Whelan and Greiner.
Asked about the US offer, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that the prisoner exchange is usually quietly negotiated behind the scenes.
“We know that such issues are discussed without disclosing any information,” Peskov told reporters on a conference call. “Usually, the public knows about it when agreements are actually made.”
He stressed that “no agreement has been finalized” and declined to provide further details.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said in a separate statement that Russian and US officials are in negotiations over a possible prisoner exchange and “no concrete result has been reached so far.”
“We assume that the interests of both parties should be taken into account during the negotiations,” Zakharova said.
Ms. Blinken’s comments marked the first time the US government had publicly disclosed any concrete action it had taken to secure Greiner’s release. Two-time Olympic gold medalist and WNBA player Phoenix Mercury was arrested at Moscow airport in mid-February when inspectors found vape cartridges containing cannabis oil in her luggage.
In a radical departure from previous policy, Mr. Blinken said he plans to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to discuss the proposed prisoner deal and other issues. This will be their first phone conversation since Russia sent its troops to Ukraine.
For years, Russia has expressed interest in releasing Russian arms dealer Bot, once referred to as the “Dealer of Death.” He was sentenced to 25 years in prison in 2012, for conspiring to illegally sell millions of dollars worth of weapons.
The trial of Grenier, accused of drug smuggling, began this month in a Moscow suburb. On Wednesday, she said she didn’t know how the cartridges ended up in her bag, but she had received a doctor’s recommendation to use cannabis to treat job-related pain.
The 31-year-old pleaded guilty but said she had no criminal intent to bring the cartridges to Russia and hastily package them for her return to play in the Russian Basketball League during the NBA’s season death. She faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted of drug import.
Greiner said on Wednesday that an interpreter translated only part of what was said while he was being held at Moscow airport and officials asked him to sign the documents, but that “nobody explained anything.”
Greiner also said that other than a poor translation, she received no explanation of her rights and was unable to contact a lawyer during the first hours of her detention. She said she used a translation app on her phone to communicate with the customs officer.
His arrest came amid heightened tensions between Moscow and Washington, before Russia sent troops into Ukraine on February 24. Greiner’s five months in detention drew heavy criticism from her teammates and supporters in the United States, who officially declared her “unjustly detained,” a designation vehemently rejected by Russian officials.