Russia is ready to discuss a prisoner exchange that would return WNBA star Brittney Griner to the United States, the country's foreign minister said Friday.
Sergey Lavrov made his comments a day after a Russian court sentenced Griner to nine years in prison on drug charges. Despite her guilty plea, which was viewed as a procedural move, the United States maintains Griner is being wrongfully detained.
"We are ready to discuss this topic, but within the framework of a channel that was agreed upon by Presidents (Vladimir) Putin and (Joe) Biden," Lavrov said Friday in Cambodia, where he is attending a regional forum of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
Biden and Putin discussed the topic of Americans being held in Russia at a summit in Geneva last year.
The United States has offered what the country's top diplomat termed a "substantial proposal" to the Kremlin in an effort to free Griner and American security expert Paul Whelan, who was convicted of espionage in 2020 and sentenced to 16 years. The U.S. reportedly offered to exchange convicted arms dealer Viktor Bout, who has five years remaining on his prison sentence.
The Wall Street Journal reported Friday that Russia also wants the package to include the release of and return to the country of Vadim Krasikov, a Russian who is serving a murder sentence in Germany.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who also is in Cambodia, said the United States is concerned about Russia's use of "individuals as political pawns."
"We put forward, as you know, a substantial proposal that Russia should engage with us on," Mr. Blinken told reporters. "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."
Griner admitted to bringing a small amount of hashish oil into the country in mid-February as she returned to her Russian basketball team. She said she packed the drug, which was medically prescribed for pain, by mistake and didn't try to break Russian laws.
Back in the United States, WNBA players vowed to keep fighting to bring Griner home.
Her team, the Phoenix Mercury, played the Connecticut Sun on Thursday night. Before the game, the two teams joined at midcourt in Uncasville, Conn., for 42 seconds of silence in honor of Griner, who wears No. 42 on her WNBA jersey.
"And we're still supposed to play this game," Mercury guard Skylar Diggins-Smith said after the game, won by the Sun. "Nobody even wanted to play today. How are we even supposed to approach the game and approach the court with a clear mind when the whole group is crying before the game?"
--Field Level Media