MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia and the United States are in talks on a possible prisoner swap that could secure the release of Paul Whelan, a former U.S. Navy jailed for espionage, within two to three months, his lawyer told Reuters Monday.
Russia convicted Whelan, who holds U.S., British, Canadian and Irish passports, of espionage last June and sentenced him to 16 years in prison. He denied the espionage and said he had been set up in a needle-stick operation. Washington demanded his release.
Moscow said Whelan was caught red-handed with classified information in a Moscow hotel room where Federal Security Service agents detained him on December 28, 2018.
Whelans’ Russian attorney, Vladimir Zherebenkov, said talks about an exchange were underway between Russian and US security services.
I speak with the siloviks (Russian security services). They say negotiations are underway. The issue with an exchange will be resolved, he said.
As far as I know, some sort of initiative has emerged, I think the US side has started to engage in talks … specifically under Biden, he said.
Zherebenkov has said in the past that he believes Moscow wants a swap deal that could include Whelan. It has not previously been reported that talks with the administration of US President Joe Bidens are underway.
According to my information, negotiations are underway and the issue of a transfer will be resolved in the next two to three months, he added.
The U.S. Embassy did not respond to a request for comment.
Zherebenkov said he was unable to say whether the talks addressed the case of Trevor Reed, another former US Navy jailed by Russia for nine years in July for endangering the lives of two Moscow police officers. .
Washington has protested in both the Whelan and Reeds cases, describing the latest trial as the scene of the absurd and lacking serious evidence.
On January 27, the Russian Foreign Ministry said Reed and Whelan had been wrongly presented in the West as innocent victims and had been convicted of crimes in Russia. He said talks about their exchange were being used to put pressure on Moscow.
Zherebenkov said there were different opinions in Moscow about the Russians being held by the United States that could be traded for Whelan.
He named the arms dealer Viktor Bout and Konstantin Yaroshenko, who was convicted of conspiracy to smuggle cocaine. Russia has long demanded their release. He also suggested anonymous Russian entrepreneurs and people he describes as computer programmers.
Reporting by Tom Balmforth; edited by Angus MacSwan
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