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US offers Russia deal to release Paul Whelan, Brittney Griner

The Biden administration has offered Russia a deal aimed at bringing home WNBA star Brittney Griner and another imprisoned American, Paul Whelan, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, said. In a sharp reversal of past policy, Blinken also said he expected to speak with his Kremlin counterpart for the first time since before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The statement marked the first time the US government has publicly disclosed any specific action it has taken to secure the release of Griner, who was arrested on drug-related charges at a Moscow airport in February and testified Wednesday at her trial. Blinken did not elaborate on the proposed deal, which was offered weeks ago, although it is unclear whether it would be enough for Russia to free the Americans. But the public acknowledgment of the offer at a time when the US has otherwise avoided Russia reflects mounting pressure on the administration for Griner and Whelan and its determination to get them home. Blinken said Washington would like a response from Moscow. Russia has for years expressed interest in the release of Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer once dubbed the “Death Merchant” who was sentenced to 25 years in prison in 2012 on charges of plotting to illegally sell millions of dollars in arms. .Blinken said he had requested a call with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. US officials said the desire for answers about the prisoner offer was the primary, but not the only, reason why the US on Wednesday requested the call with Lavrov. If the call goes through, it would be the first conversation Blinken and Lavrov have had since February 15, about a week before Russia invaded Ukraine. Blinken also said he would speak to Lavrov about the importance of Russia complying with a UN-brokered deal to release several tonnes of Ukrainian grain from storage and warning him of the dangers of possible Russian attempts to annex parts of eastern and southern Ukraine. .Whelan, a corporate security executive from Michigan, was sentenced in 2020 to 16 years in prison on espionage charges. He and his family have strongly maintained his innocence. The US government denounced the charges as false. Griner, in custody in Russia for the past month, acknowledged in court this month that she had cartridges containing cannabis oil in her luggage when she arrived in Moscow in February, but claims she had no criminal intent and packed the cartridges by mistake. At her trial Wednesday, Griner said she didn’t know how the hemp oil ended up in her bag, but explained she had a doctor’s recommendation for it and had packed it in a hurry. She said she was pulled aside at the airport after inspectors found the cartridges, but that a language interpreter translated only a fraction of what was said during her questioning and that officials asked her to sign documents without explanation. Griner faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted of drug trafficking. The US government has long resisted prisoner swaps out of concern that it could encourage additional hostage-taking and promote a false equivalence between a wrongfully imprisoned American and a rightfully convicted foreign national. But an earlier deal in April in which Marine veteran Trevor Reed was swapped for jailed Russian pilot Konstantin Yaroshenko appeared to open the door to similar resolutions in the future, and the Biden administration has been dogged by political pressure to bring home Griner and others. Americans were characterized as unjustly imprisoned. There was no indication that Blinken and Lavrov had communicated to secure Reid’s release. Their last publicly acknowledged contact was on February 22, when Blinken wrote to Lavrov to cancel a meeting they had planned as a last-ditch effort to prevent a Russian invasion, saying Moscow had shown no interest in serious diplomacy on the issue. The State Department later said Russia’s diplomacy was “Kabuki theater” — all show and no substance. The two last met in person in Geneva in January to discuss what was then Russia’s massive military build-up along the Ukrainian border and Russian demands for NATO to reduce its presence in Eastern Europe and permanently deny accession of Ukraine. The US rejected the Russian demands. Blinken and Lavrov avoided each other earlier this month the next time they were in the same place at the same time: at a meeting of foreign ministers from the Group of 20 nations in Bali, Indonesia. The two men will then be in the same city at the same time next week in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where they will both attend the Regional Forum of Southeast Asian Nations. It was not immediately clear whether the phone call ahead of that meeting, scheduled for Aug. 4-5, would foreshadow an in-person discussion.

The Biden administration has offered Russia a deal aimed at bringing home WNBA star Brittney Griner and another imprisoned American, Paul Whelan, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said Wednesday.

In a sharp reversal of past policy, Blinken also said he expected to speak with his Kremlin counterpart for the first time since Russia invaded Ukraine.

The statement marked the first time the US government has publicly disclosed any specific action it has taken to secure the release of Griner, who was arrested on drug charges at a Moscow airport in February and testified Wednesday at her trial.

Blinken did not elaborate on the proposed deal, which was offered weeks ago, although it is unclear whether it would be enough for Russia to free the Americans. But the public acknowledgment of the offer at a time when the US has otherwise avoided Russia reflects growing pressure on the administration over Griner and Whelan and its determination to repatriate them.

Evgenia Novozhenina/Pool Photo via AP

WNBA star and two-time Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner is escorted into a courtroom for a hearing, in Khimki just outside Moscow, Russia, Wednesday, July 27, 2022.

Blinken said Washington would like a response from Moscow. Russia has for years expressed interest in the release of Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer once dubbed the “Death Merchant” who was sentenced to 25 years in prison in 2012 on charges of plotting to illegally sell millions of dollars in arms. .

Blinken said he had requested a call with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. U.S. officials said the desire for answers about the prisoner offer was the primary, but not the only, reason the U.S. requested the call with Lavrov on Wednesday.

If the call goes through, it would be the first conversation Blinken and Lavrov have had since February 15, about a week before Russia invaded Ukraine. Blinken also said he would talk to Lavrov about the importance of Russia complying with a UN-brokered deal to release several tons of Ukrainian grain from storage and warn him about the dangers of possible Russian attempts to annex parts of the east and south Ukrainian.

Whelan, a corporate security executive from Michigan, was sentenced in 2020 to 16 years in prison on espionage charges. He and his family have strongly maintained his innocence. The US government has denounced the allegations as false.

Griner, who has been in custody in Russia for the past month, acknowledged in court this month that she had cartridges containing cannabis oil in her luggage when she arrived in Moscow in February, but claims she had no criminal intent and packed the cartridges by mistake.

At her trial Wednesday, Griner said she didn’t know how the hemp oil ended up in her bag, but explained she had a doctor’s recommendation for it and had packed it in a hurry. She said she was pulled aside at the airport after inspectors found the cartridges, but that a language interpreter translated only a fraction of what was said during her questioning and that officials asked her to sign documents without explanation.

Griner faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted of drug trafficking.

The US government has long resisted prisoner swaps out of concern that it could encourage additional hostage-taking and promote a false equivalence between a wrongfully imprisoned American and a rightfully convicted foreign national. But an earlier deal in April in which Marine veteran Trevor Reed was swapped for jailed Russian pilot Konstantin Yaroshenko appeared to open the door to similar resolutions in the future, and the Biden administration has been dogged by political pressure to bring home Griner and others Americans who have been wrongfully imprisoned.

There was no indication that Blinken and Lavrov had communicated to secure Reid’s release. Their last publicly acknowledged contact was on February 22, when Blinken wrote to Lavrov to cancel a meeting they had planned as a last-ditch effort to prevent a Russian invasion, saying Moscow had shown no interest in serious diplomacy on the issue. The State Department later said that Russia’s diplomacy was “Kabuki Theater” — all show and no substance.

The two last met in person in Geneva in January to discuss what was then Russia’s massive military build-up along the Ukrainian border and Russian demands for NATO to reduce its presence in Eastern Europe and permanently deny accession of Ukraine. The US rejected the Russian demands.

Blinken and Lavrov avoided each other earlier this month the next time they were in the same place at the same time: at a meeting of foreign ministers from the Group of 20 nations in Bali, Indonesia.

The two men will then be in the same city at the same time next week in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where they will both attend the Regional Forum of Southeast Asian Nations. It was not immediately clear whether the phone call ahead of that meeting, scheduled for Aug. 4-5, would foreshadow an in-person discussion.

US offers Russia deal to release Paul Whelan, Brittney Griner Source link US offers Russia deal to release Paul Whelan, Brittney Griner

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