Aug 5, 2022 - World

Russia "ready to discuss" prisoner swap for Griner and Whelan, Lavrov says

Brittney Griner inside a defendants' cage during a court hearing in Khimki, Russia, on Aug. 4.
Brittney Griner inside a defendants' cage during a court hearing in Khimki, Russia, on Aug. 4. Photo: Evgenia Novozhenina/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Moscow is "ready to discuss" a prisoner swap for WNBA star Brittney Griner and Marine Corps veteran Paul Whelan, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Friday.

Why it matters: Lavrov's comments come a day after a Russian court found Griner guilty on drug charges and sentenced her to nine years in prison. Her sentence came nearly six months after she was arrested at a Moscow airport in February for possession of a vape cartridge with hashish oil.

  • Whelan, a 52-year-old corporate security executive, was arrested in Moscow in December 2018. He was accused of receiving and possessing a USB drive with classified information. Russian authorities formally charged him with espionage in January 2019.
  • Whelan was sentenced 16 years in prison in June 2020. His lawyers and his family have said that he was set up by Russian intelligence and that he did not know the device contained classified information.
  • The U.S. has proposed exchanging Griner and Whelan for convicted Russian arms trafficker Viktor Bout, who is serving a 25-year prison sentence for supplying weapons to a terrorist organization and conspiring to kill Americans.

What they're saying: Lavrov said Friday Russia is “ready to discuss this topic" on the condition that the talks take place through a "channel" agreed to by President Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

  • “We put forward, as you know, a substantial proposal that Russia should engage with us on,” Blinken said at a press conference Friday. “And what Foreign Minister Lavrov said this morning, and said publicly, is that they are prepared to engage through channels we’ve established to do just that, and we’ll be pursuing it.”

The big picture: Russia held former Marine Trevor Reed in prison beginning in 2019 before being releasing him in April. Moscow exchanged him for Konstantin Yaroshenko, a Russian citizen serving a 20-year sentence after being found guilty of conspiracy to smuggle more than $100 million worth of cocaine into the U.S.

Go deeper: Brittney Griner sentenced to 9 years in Russian drug trial

Go deeper