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Blinken says US still ‘actively engaged’ with Russia on possible prisoner swap

 


WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Sunday the United States was “actively engaged” with Russia on a possible prisoner exchange to free Americans Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan, who are being held by Russia.

“The proof will be in the pudding,” Blinken said in an interview with “Face the Nation,” when asked if the Russians were serious about negotiations to free Griner and Whelan. “We have to see if the commitments we’ve had, the discussions we’ve had, have produced a concrete result. That’s the most important thing, but we’re not resting on the laurels of having made a proposal there. a few months. We’ve been actively engaged over these many months to try and get things done.”

Blinken announced in July that the United States had presented a “substantial proposal” to Russia aimed at securing the release of Griner, a WNBA star, and Whelan, a retired U.S. Marine. Russian media speculated that a potential swap would involve Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer serving a 25-year prison sentence in the United States for conspiring to sell weapons to people who had the intent to kill Americans.

Griner was detained in Russia following her arrest at a Moscow airport in February and conviction for possession of a small amount of cannabis oil. She was sentenced to nine years in prison and last month transferred to a “remote” penal colony.

Whelan has been detained in Russia since December 2018, when he traveled to the country for a friend’s wedding. He was convicted by a Russian court of espionage charges and sentenced in 2020 to 16 years in prison.

A senior Russian diplomat last month suggested to reporters in Moscow that the chances of a prisoner swap were growing and acknowledged that Bout had been offered in a possible exchange, according to Russian media. But the State Department quickly dismissed Russia’s optimism. Vedant Patel, a spokesman for the department, told reporters that Russia “has consistently failed to negotiate in good faith” and that “the Kremlin’s inability to seriously negotiate on these issues in the established channel, or any other channel moreover, goes against his public opinion”. statements.”

Still, Blinken said Sunday that since he presented the “significant proposal” months ago, the Biden administration has been engaged “on a regular basis,” and said the United States “doesn’t won’t stop” until the Americans are brought home.

“We’ve been engaged a number of times, in every way possible, to try to move it forward and to see if there are different permutations that could achieve what we’re trying to achieve, which is to bring our people back. home,” he said.

The secretary of state declined to provide details on a possible prison swap or talks with the Russians, but reiterated the Biden administration’s commitment to releasing Griner and Whelan.

“My efforts, the efforts of the entire administration are to bring Paul and Brittney home,” Blinken said.

Russian media reported that Moscow wanted a one-on-one prisoner exchange, although Blinken again declined to provide details of talks between the United States and Russia. Instead, he noted that any agreement on the release of Griner and Whelan requires Russian cooperation.

[T]The other side gets a vote in this area. It’s not just what we want. That’s what they’re ready to do,” he said. “And that’s something we’re working on almost every day.”

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