Russia confirms prisoner swap negotiations are underway for Griner, Whelan
Russia confirmed for the first time on Thursday that it is negotiating with the U.S. regarding a possible prisoner swap deal that would secure the freedom of WNBA star Brittney Griner and former Marine Paul Whelan.
Driving the news: The news comes after Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov confirmed last week that Russia was "ready to discuss" a potential deal.
- A Russian court found Griner guilty on drug charges last week and sentenced her to nine years in prison.
- Whelan was arrested in Moscow in 2018 for allegedly possessing classified information. He was sentenced to 16 years in prison in 2020.
State of play: Negotiations began through a diplomatic channel established when President Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin met in June last year, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ivan Nechayev said Thursday, Russian state media reported.
- “Instructions were given to authorized structures to carry out negotiations,” Nechayev said, per the Washington Post.
- “They are being conducted by competent authorities,” he added.
The big picture: Secretary of State Antony Blinken said last month that the U.S. had offered Russia a "substantial proposal" for Griner and Whelan, but did not elaborate on the details.
- It was subsequently reported that the U.S. was considering offering to exchange convicted Russian arms trafficker Viktor Bout for Griner and Whelan's release. The Kremlin emphasized at the time that no deal had been reached.