US, Russia move toward Britney Grenier swap talks after Lavrov says Kremlin ‘ready’

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Foreign Minister Anthony Blinken said in Cambodia on Friday morning that the United States would “continue” the prisoner exchange with Russia for US citizens Britney Grenier and Paul Whelan.

Blinken’s comment came when asked about the statements made by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov regarding a possible prisoner exchange at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) foreign ministers meeting.

“We have made, you know, a substantive suggestion that Russia should engage with us. And what Foreign Minister Lavrov said this morning and said publicly is that they are ready to engage through the channels that we have set up to do exactly that,” Blinken said during an ASEAN press conference. We follow.”

US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken participates in a press conference after attending the events of the 55th ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Phnom Penh on August 5, 2022.
(Tang Shin Suthi/AFP via Getty Images)

The announcement comes a day after a Russian court sentenced WNBA star Britney Grenier to nine years in prison for possession of marijuana.

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Blinken was asked to respond to Lavrov, who said he did not expect to hear from Blinkin but was surprised when Blinkin did not communicate.

“With regards to Britney Greiner and Paul Whelan, there are a few things in this regard. I think we have all seen the conviction of Britney Greiner to nine years in prison, and that only adds to the injustice done to her and her wrongdoing,” Blinken said.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (center) and US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken (right) attend the East Asia Summit foreign ministers meeting during the 55th ASEAN Foreign Ministers' Meeting in Phnom Penh on August 5, 2022.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (center) and US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken (right) attend the East Asia Summit foreign ministers meeting during the 55th ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Phnom Penh on August 5, 2022.
(Andrew Harnick/Paul/AFP via Getty Images)

“It highlights our very high concern about the Russian legal system and the Russian government’s use of unlawful arrests to advance its own agenda, using individuals as political tools. The same is true of Paul Whelan,” he added.

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Earlier today, Lavrov said Russia was “ready to discuss” the prisoner trade through diplomatic channels as a special framework “agreed upon before” by Russian President Vladimir Putin and President Biden.

Lavrov said that Russia “is ready to discuss this issue, but within the framework of the channel agreed upon by the presidents.”

“If the Americans decide to resort again to public diplomacy…that’s their business and I would even say it’s their problem,” Lavrov said at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov speaks during a press conference in Moscow, Russia, on Monday, June 6, 2022.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov speaks during a press conference in Moscow, Russia, on Monday, June 6, 2022.
(Press Service of the Russian Foreign Ministry via AP)

“With regard to the people convicted in Russia and the United States … there is a specific channel agreed upon by the presidents,” Lavrov added during the press conference. “No matter what anyone says publicly, this channel will remain in effect.”

Russia has previously warned the United States not to engage in “megaphone diplomacy” because it would impede ongoing negotiations.

US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken looks at the East Asia Summit foreign ministers meeting during the 55th ASEAN Foreign Ministers' Meeting in Phnom Penh on August 5, 2022.

US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken looks at the East Asia Summit foreign ministers meeting during the 55th ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Phnom Penh on August 5, 2022.
(Tang Shin Suthi/AFP via Getty Images)

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President Biden issued a statement denouncing Greiner’s detention and calling the prison sentence “unacceptable.”

“I call on Russia to immediately release her so that she can be with her wife, loved ones, friends and teammates,” President Biden said. “My administration will continue to work tirelessly and pursue every avenue possible to achieve this [her] Home safely ASAP.”

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