Russia said Friday it was ready to discuss a prisoner swap with Washington at the presidential level, a day after the drug conviction of US basketball star Brittney Griner.
Despite tensions soaring between Russia and the US since the launch of Moscow’s military intervention in Ukraine, the former Cold War rivals appeared to be edging closer to a new prisoner exchange.
The White House has urged Russia to accept its offer of a deal for the release of Griner and former US Marine Paul Whelan, who was sentenced to 16 years in prison on espionage charges.
Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Friday said Russia was willing to discuss the matter.
“We are ready to discuss this subject, but only within the framework of the (communication) channel established by presidents Putin and Biden,” Lavrov told a press conference on a visit to Cambodia.
“There is a special channel established by the presidents and despite certain public declarations, it is still functional,” he added.
WNBA player Griner was on Thursday sentenced to nine years in a Russian penal colony and ordered to pay a fine of one million rubles ($16,590) for possessing and smuggling narcotics.
The two-time Olympic basketball gold medallist and Women’s NBA champion was detained at a Moscow airport in February after she was found carrying vape cartridges with cannabis oil in her luggage.
The Phoenix Mercury player was coming to Russia to play club basketball with UMMC Ekaterinburg during the US off-season — a common path for American stars seeking additional income.
Griner pleaded guilty to the charges, but said she did not intend to break the law or use the banned substance in Russia.
Meanwhile, Britain said on Friday that the actions taken by Russian forces at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant has likely undermined security and the safety of the plant’s normal operations.
“Russian forces have probably used the wider facility area, in particular the adjacent city of Enerhodar, to rest their forces, utilising the protected status of the nuclear power plant to reduce the risk to their equipment and personnel from overnight Ukrainian attacks,” Britain said in an intelligence update on Twitter.
Russia’s intentions regarding the plant remain unclear after five months of its occupation of Ukraine. Its forces are probably operating in the regions adjacent to the power station, having used artillery units based in these areas to target Ukrainian territory on the western bank of the Dnipro river, Britain said.