Russia’s foreign minister said on Friday that he would propose a suitable date for a phone call with foreign minister Antony J. Blinken to discuss a possible prisoner swap.
The Biden administration has offered to extradite Viktor Bout, the imprisoned Russian arms dealer, in exchange for the release of US basketball player Brittney Griner and former US Marine Paul N. Whelan, who are both held in Russia. a person familiar with the conversations.
The two Americans have become pawns in a high-stakes diplomatic game as relations between Moscow and Washington have deteriorated sharply since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24.
On Wednesday, Mr Blinken said Washington had “put a substantial proposal on the table,” though he declined to discuss the details. He added that he planned to discuss the proposal soon with his Russian counterpart, Sergey V. Lavrov, with whom he has not spoken since Russia invaded Ukraine more than five months ago.
During a trip to Uzbekistan on Friday, Mr Lavrov said he had heard of Mr Blinken’s statement on television during a visit to Africa this week. He said any phone call between the two men should be conducted from his office and that Russia had asked the US side “to clarify the questions they wish to discuss”.
Mr Lavrov said the issue of the prisoner exchange had been discussed at a January meeting in Geneva between President Biden and President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, and both leaders instructed their government agencies to discuss it further. Mr Lavrov said his ministry was not involved in that discussion but would listen to what Mr Blinken has to say.
The US government has come under increasing pressure from relatives of US citizens to release them from Russian prisons.
Ms. Griner, a WNBA star who played off-season for a Russian team, is on trial in a Russian court and faces up to 10 years in prison for drug possession. The 31-year-old athlete was detained at an airport in Moscow about a week before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and customs officials discovered hash oil in her luggage.
Mr Whelan was held in a Moscow hotel in 2018 where he was staying for a friend’s wedding. In 2020, a Russian court sentenced him to 16 years in prison for espionage, a charge he and his family have denied.
Mr. Bout is serving a 25-year federal prison sentence for conspiracy to sell weapons to people who said they planned to kill Americans. Russia has denounced the prosecution of Mr. Bout in America as politically motivated.
In April, after an extensive diplomatic mission, Russia released Trevor Reed, another former Marine, in exchange for Konstantin Yaroshenko, a Russian pilot who had been sentenced to a long prison term in the United States on cocaine trafficking charges.