“I’m not going to characterize” [Lavrov’s] response” to what the Biden administration has called a “substantial offer” in exchange for the release of basketball star Brittney Griner and security adviser Paul Whelan from a Russian prison, Blinken said at a news conference with his visiting Japanese counterpart. “And I can’t give you an estimate of whether I think things are more or less likely.”
“But I thought it was important that he heard about it directly from me,” Blinken added.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement that “with regard to a possible exchange of Russian and American citizens held in custody, the Russian side strongly suggested returning to a professional dialogue in ‘silent diplomacy’ mode, without spread speculation.”
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The statement appeared to confirm reports that the Biden administration has proposed an exchange with notorious Russian arms dealer Victor Bout, 55, who is serving a 25-year prison sentence in Illinois for conspiracy to kill US citizens and sell weapons to terrorists.
On Wednesday, Blinken publicly announced that the government had communicated an unspecified offer to Russia several weeks ago, but Moscow had not responded. He said he had requested a meeting with Lavrov, and other US officials expressed hope that a direct call would spark a Russian response. Blinken and Lavrov hadn’t spoken to each other since they met in Geneva on January 21, in a last-ditch US diplomatic effort to stop Russia from invading Ukraine.
Blinken said in Friday’s appeal he also set out “exactly what we expect them to do in the coming weeks and months, including holding mock referendums” in parts of southern Ukraine currently occupied by Russian forces, “all to to make progress. [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s goals are to gobble up as much Ukrainian territory as possible and, from his perspective, try to erase Ukraine as an independent sovereign country. Of course that’s not going to happen… Not only will it not be accepted, it will lead to significant additional costs for Russia if it goes through.”
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“I don’t want to characterize Foreign Minister Lavrov’s reactions,” Blinken said. “If you have a chance to ask him, then move on.”
Lavrov publicly commented earlier this week that the occupied Ukrainian territories will become part of Russia and will be annexed, just like Crimea in 2014.
In its statement, the foreign ministry said Lavrov told Blinken that Russia’s “goals and objectives will be fully achieved”.
“In this context,” the statement said, Lavrov drew Blinken’s attention “to the fact that the US and NATO continue to supply arms to the Ukrainian Armed Forces and National Battalions, which are then widely used against the civilian population.” , causing the pain of the Kiev regime, dragging on the conflict and multiplying the number of victims.”
Lavrov, the statement said, emphasized that “Russian armed forces strictly adhere to international law and that systematic efforts have been organized in the liberated areas to return to a peaceful life.”