Russia said on Friday that it is ready to discuss prisoner swaps with Washington at the presidential level. drug punishment US basketball star Brittany Griner.

Despite rising tensions between Russia and the US since the beginning of Moscow’s military intervention in UkraineFormer Cold War rivals appeared to be drawing closer to a new prisoner exchange.

The White House has urged Russia to accept a proposal for a deal to release Griner and former US Marine Paul Whelan. 16 years in prison for espionage,

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Friday that Moscow was ready to discuss the matter.

“We are ready to discuss this topic, but only within the (communication) channel established by Presidents Putin and Biden,” Lavrov said at a news conference on his visit to Cambodia.

“There is a special channel set up by the President and despite some public announcements, it is still functional,” he said.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who Spoke to Lavrov about the exchange Last Friday, said Washington would “pursuing” discussions with Russia.

He also said that Griner’s sentence highlighted “people wrongfully detained by the Russian government to advance their own agenda by using them as political pawns”.

WNBA player Griner was sentenced on Thursday to nine years in a Russian penal colony and ordered to pay a fine of one million rubles ($16,590) for possession and smuggling of narcotics.

The two-time Olympic basketball gold medalist and women’s NBA champion was detained at a Moscow airport in February after she was carrying a wipe cartridge with cannabis oil in her luggage.

The Phoenix Mercury player was coming to Russia during the US off-season to play club basketball with UMMC Ekaterinburg – a common route for American stars looking for extra income.

grinner convicted of chargesBut said he did not intend to break the law or use a banned substance in Russia.

Griner said in his final statement before the verdict, “I want the court to understand that this was an honest mistake, which I did in a hurry, under stress, trying to recover from the aftermath of COVID, and trying to get back to my team.” while doing it.”

Griner testified that she had permission from an American doctor to use medicinal cannabis to relieve the pain of multiple injuries, and that she had never failed a drug test.

The use of medical marijuana is not allowed in Russia.

Griner’s legal team said they plan to appeal the “unfair” ruling.

President Biden called Griner’s sentence “unacceptable” and said Washington would “work tirelessly” to secure his release.

Blinken has said that Washington has made a “substantial offer” for Griner and Whelan to exchange.

The United States has the most high-profile Russian prisoner victor boutA 55-year-old arms smuggler, known as a “death merchant” is serving a 25-year prison sentence.

There is no official confirmation that Washington has offered to replace him.

Bout’s wife Alla offered condolences to Griner’s family on Friday, saying she hopes her husband and the American athlete will be able to return home.

“Sympathy has no citizenship and nationality, it is a universal human feeling,” she told Russian news agency RIA Novosti, expressing hope that Russia and the US “will come to an agreement.”

Moscow and Washington have already conducted a prisoner swap since the start of Moscow’s Ukraine invasion.

In April, Washington exchanged former US Marine Trevor Reid For convicted drug smuggler Konstantin Yaroshenko.

one in handwritten letter From Griner, who was delivered to the White House last month, the WNBA player wrote about how terrified she was that she could be imprisoned “forever” in Russia.

Griner’s wife Cherrell told “CBS Mornings” that when she read the letter, she could feel the fear Griner was experiencing.

“She’s probably the strongest person I know, so she doesn’t say such words lightly. It means she’s really scared that she might never see us again. You know, I I share the same sentiments,” Cherrell said.

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