How soon could Brittney Griner return to the United States as part of a prisoner exchange with Russia? Perhaps not very, if comments from officials in Washington and Moscow on Thursday are any indication.
A day after Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken revealed the United States had ‘put a substantial proposal on the table’ for the American basketball star’s release, there were few signs of movement .
The offer, according to a person briefed on the negotiations, involves swapping a Russian arms dealer serving a long sentence in a US prison for Ms. Griner, who has been detained since February on drug charges, and Paul N. Whelan, a former Marine detained in Russia in 2019 and accused of espionage. The State Department classified the two Americans as “wrongfully detained” and referred their cases to a special office for hostage affairs.
Mr Blinken did not confirm the details of the proposal, but said the two countries had “communicated repeatedly and directly” about it. Speaking at the State Department on Wednesday, Blinken also said he expected to meet in the coming days with his Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Sergei V. Lavrov, to urge him to accept the offer.
But the men didn’t speak — their last known discussion took place before Russia invaded Ukraine in February — and on Thursday, State Department spokesman Ned Price appeared to express a some frustration with the Russian response.
“The fact that, several weeks later, we are where we are, I think you can see a reflection of the fact that it hasn’t moved as much as we would like,” he said.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said Thursday that Moscow had not received a request from Washington for a conversation between Mr. Lavrov and Mr. Blinken, according to Interfax, a Russian news agency. But the ministry said in a separate statement that the possible exchange of Russian and American citizens currently underway had been discussed between Washington and Moscow.
Maria Zakharova, spokeswoman for the Foreign Ministry, said that while negotiations were ongoing, “no concrete results have been achieved”.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry S. Peskov brushed off reporters’ questions about negotiations regarding any prisoner swaps. “We know that such issues are discussed without any disclosure of information,” Peskov said. “Normally the public learns about it when the agreements are already implemented.”
It was impossible to know to what extent public statements were posturing or tactics.
But on Thursday, Ms Zakharova was anything but encouraging in responding to Mr Blinken’s desire to speak with Mr Lavrov, who is currently traveling abroad, visiting leaders in Egypt, Ethiopia, Uganda and Republic of the Congo to support Russia’s narrative that it is Western powers, not Russia, that are hampering desperately needed grain shipments.
“Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will respond to this request when time permits,” she told Russian news agency Interfax. “He currently has a busy schedule of real work in terms of international contacts.”