Blinken, Lavrov to Speak in Coming Days About US Offer to Release of Whelan, Griner
© AP Photo / Al DragoSecretary of State Antony Blinken testifies during a Senate Foreign Relations committee hearing, April 26, 2022, on Capitol Hill in Washington.
© AP Photo / Al Drago
WASHINGTON (Sputnik) - Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Wednesday that he will speak with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in the coming days on a range of topics, but most importantly on the offer the United States has made to facilitate the release of detained US citizens Paul Whelan and Brittney Griner.
CNN reported earlier that the Biden administration is offering Russian citizen Viktor Bout to Russia in exchange for Whelan and Griner.
"In the coming days, I expect to speak with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov for the first time since the war began," Blinken said during a press briefing. "I plan to raise issues that's been a top priority: The release of Americans Paul Whelan and Brittney Griner who have been wrongfully detained and must be allowed to come home. We put a substantial proposal on the table weeks ago to facilitate their release."
Blinken said the US and Russian governments have communicated repeatedly and directly on that proposal. However, the Secretary declined to confirm details about the substantial proposal and whether it includes a potential swap for Bout.
Blinken noted he and Lavrov would also speak about the United Nations-brokered deal to facilitate exports of grain and fertilizer via the Black Sea.
Blinken said President Joe Biden was directly involved in the substantial proposal. CNN reported that Biden supported the potential prisoner swap deal earlier this year.
White House National Security Council Strategic Communications Coordinator John Kirby said in later remarks that White House Deputy Homeland Security Adviser Josh Skelter talked with the Whelan and Griner families ahead of Blinken's comments about a substantial proposal to Russia to facilitate their release. He added that Skelter will follow up with both families later on Wednesday and on Thursday as well.
Kirby further said that the Biden administration's proposal is serious and they hope that Russia will engage favorably and seriously with them on this matter to facilitate Whelan's and Griner's release. He added that they are still waiting for Russia to make a decision.
JUST IN: Sec. of State Antony Blinken says U.S. "put a substantial proposal on the table" to facilitate release of Paul Whelan and Brittney Griner from Russia. https://t.co/hi29tu0lxM pic.twitter.com/o38OuvHVTC— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) July 27, 2022
On February 17, Griner was detained at a Moscow airport for carrying cannabis oil in her luggage. If convicted, the athlete would face a prison sentence of up to ten years. Griner has pleaded guilty but insisted that she had no intention of committing a crime and was packing in a hurry.
Whelan is serving his prison sentence in Russia's Mordovia region after a Moscow court sentenced him in June 2020 to 16 years on charges of espionage. He has denied the charges but did not challenge the verdict in the hope of being part of a potential prisoner exchange between the United States and Russia.
The charges in Whelan's case were not disclosed, but a press release from Russia's Federal Security Service said he was detained in Moscow at the end of 2018 during a counter-espionage operation.