WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken spoke with his Russian counterpart, Sergey V. Lavrov, on Friday and urged him to accept an offer to release Brittney Griner and Paul N. Whelan, but did not reported no breakthrough.
Mr Blinken told reporters at a press conference that he spoke to his Russian counterpart by phone, their first conversation in weeks before Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24. He declined to say how Mr. Lavrov responded.
“I urged Foreign Minister Lavrov to go ahead with this proposal,” he said. “I’m not going to characterize his response, and I can’t tell you if I think things are more or less likely.”
In its account of the call, the Russian Foreign Ministry said that when speaking of a possible exchange of imprisoned citizens, Mr. Lavrov suggested returning to a procedure of “quiet diplomacy”, without “campaigns of speculative information”.
Ms. Griner, a WNBA star who had played for a Russian team in the offseason, is on trial in a Russian court and faces a sentence of up to 10 years in prison for drug trafficking. The 31-year-old athlete was detained at a Moscow airport about a week before Russia invaded Ukraine after customs officers discovered hash oil in her luggage.
Mr Whelan, a former Navy and corporate security executive, was detained in 2018 at a Moscow hotel, where he was staying for a friend’s wedding. In 2020, a Russian court sentenced him to 16 years in prison for espionage, a charge he and his family have denied.
The State Department has classified Mr Whelan and Ms Griner as ‘wrongfully detained’.
According to a person briefed on the matter, the Biden administration offered last month to trade Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, who is currently serving a 25-year federal prison sentence in the United States, for Ms. Griner and Mr. .Whelan.
Mr. Blinken also said he had pressed Mr. Lavrov to respect a recent Russian agreement allowing the passage of Ukrainian grain from Black Sea ports, and told him that the world would never accept a new Russian annexation of the country. Ukrainian territory.
He warned Mr Lavrov against “fake referendums” intended to “falsely demonstrate that the people of these parts of Ukraine are somehow seeking to become part of Russia”.
Such actions, Mr. Blinken said, “will result in significant additional costs being imposed on Russia, should it follow through on this plan.”
Mr Lavrov, according to the Russian Foreign Ministry, said the grain situation was “complicated by US sanctions”. He also said that the Russian forces “strictly adhere to the norms of international law”.
He added that Russia’s goals in Ukraine “will be fully achieved.”