Hopes rose Friday for a possible prisoner exchange between the United States and Russia that could free detained Americans, after a senior Russian official said he expected the swap talks to one day become a “concrete agreement.”
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Russia hopes for a “positive outcome” over the case of the exchange of Russian citizen Viktor Bout, a convicted arms smuggler serving a 25-year prison sentence in the United States, according to state media TASS.
He said that the possibility of a prisoner exchange is not only possible, but also getting stronger, adding that “and the time will come when the possibility will become a concrete agreement,” Tass reported.
However, the US State Department cautioned against optimism based on Ryabkov’s remarks, noting that Russia still needed to act in good faith.
“At the end of the day here, actions speak louder than words,” said Senior Deputy Spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Vedant Patel.
In July, CNN reported that the Biden administration offered to exchange Butt as part of a potential deal to secure the release of two Americans being held by Russia, basketball stars Brittney Grenier and Paul Whelan. But Russian officials have requested that Vadim Krasikov, a former colonel from the country’s domestic spy agency, be included in the proposed US swap between Bout, Greiner and Whelan, multiple sources familiar with the discussions told CNN previously.
Americans show some outside activity. We are engaged professionally through a dedicated channel. According to TASS, we have not yet come to a common denominator, Ryabkov told reporters on Friday. “But there is no doubt that Victor Bout is one of those being discussed and we certainly hope for a positive outcome.”
In response to Ryabkov’s comments during the ministry’s briefing, Patel warned that “the failure of the Russian government to seriously negotiate these issues in existing channels or any other channel for that matter contradicts its public statements.”
He also said “I will not comment on the details of any proposal other than to say that we have made a substantial offer that the Russian Federation has consistently failed to negotiate in good faith.”
Butt’s attorney, Steve Zissou, told CNN on Friday that this week has been “full of hopeful signs” about a possible prisoner exchange.
Zissou said Ryabkov’s comments could mean anything: that a deal could happen at any time, or it could just be a reflection of Ryabkov’s answer to a question. Notably, Bot’s prison artwork – which mostly includes sketches of prison scenes – is currently on display in the Russian State Duma.
Zissou received constant assurances from Russian officials that Bute was at the top of the Russian list for prisoner exchange. When Zissou met with the Russian ambassador to the US earlier this year, he was reaffirmed.
Zissou believes that the trade, in which only Bott and Greiner are involved, will be successful and he expressed this point of view to US officials, he said, but the United States will not agree to this because they do not want to agree to any deal that would leave. Whelan.
He also expressed the view that President Joe Biden’s position has been strengthened with the midterm elections in the rearview mirror. Biden himself had expressed hope that the Russians would become more seriously involved in the aftermath of the election.
In August, Zissou told CNN’s New Day that he was “confident” his client’s proposed prisoner exchange would happen, adding: “Look, it’s no secret that they’ve been wanting him back for several years now. They’ve been trying to get him back for decades.”
However, the US State Department played down optimism about the negotiations on Friday, saying Russia still needed to engage in good faith.
“I will not comment on the details of any proposal other than to say that we have made a substantial offer that the Russian Federation has consistently failed to negotiate in good faith,” said Vedant Patel, deputy spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs at a ministry. instructions.
The families of Whelan, who has been held by Russia for alleged espionage since 2018, and WNBA star Grenier, who have both been jailed in Moscow for drug possession since February, have urged the White House to secure their release. The State Department announced that both Greener and Whelan were being held unjustly.
His brother said in an email that US and Irish embassy officials were able to visit Paul Whelan at his remote penal colony in Russia on Wednesday.
On Thursday, Greener’s lawyers confirmed that she had been transferred to a penal colony in Javas, in western Russia’s Mordovia region, ending days of speculation about her whereabouts.
Her lawyers, Maria Blagovolina and Alexander Boykov, thanked everyone she reached out for their support.
“First, on behalf of Britney, we would like to thank everyone who has expressed interest in her,” they said in a statement. “We can confirm that Britney has begun serving her sentence at IK-2 in Mordovia.”
“We visited early this week. Britney is doing well as you might expect and trying to stay strong as she adjusts to a new environment. Given that this is a very difficult period for her, there will be no further comments from us.”