Secretary of State Blinken speaks to Lavrov for first time since Ukraine invasion to discuss prisoners and sanctions

Russian Foreign Minister gave no indication if they would accept the prisoner swap

Bevan Hurley
Friday 29 July 2022 20:26 BST
Blinken says offer on table to secure release of Griner and Whelan

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he urged Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to accept a prisoner swap for WNBA star Brittney Griner and ex-Marine Paul Whelan in their first talks since the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Mr Blinken said he had a “frank and direct conversation” with Mr Lavrov on Friday, which focused primarily on the prisoner exchange for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, the Associated Press reported.

“I urged Foreign Minister Lavrov to move forward with that proposal,” Mr Blinken said.

He said the Russian officials gave no indication if they would accept the US proposal.

“I can’t give you an assessment of whether that is any more or less likely.”

Mr Blinken described the call as “a frank and direct conversation” centred primarily on the proposal for the release of the Americans.

The top US diplomat added that he pressed his Russian counterpart to honour an agreement to allow Ukrainian grain shipments to leave the Black Sea.

Russian forces bombed the port of Odessa last week, 24 hours after agreeing to allow the shipments to resume.

Brittney Griner has been held in a Russian prison since February
Brittney Griner has been held in a Russian prison since February

He said he told Mr Lavrov that the US would never recognise any of the annexed Ukrainian lands, according to the AP.

Mr Blinken also warned the Russians of severe consequences if they proceeded with reported plans to annex parts of eastern and southern Ukraine.

The US government revealed on Wednesday it had proposed an exchange for Ms Griner and Mr Whelan in return for Bout, a notorious weapons dealer nicknamed the “merchant of death”, several weeks ago.

Kremlin spokesman Dimitry Peskov said on Thursday that Moscow has not yet accepted the terms of the deal.

Ms Griner, 31, has been incarcerated since February when she was arrested for being in possession of a small amount of cannabis vape at an airport near Moscow.

Mr Whelan has been jailed in Russia on espionage charges since 2018.

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