Kremlin spokesman Dimitry Lavrov on Thursday said Moscow has not yet accepted the terms of a proposed prisoner swap that would see WNBA star Brittney Griner and former US Marine Paul Whelan freed in exchange for a Russian arms dealer held in an American prison.
The proposed deal had been alluded to by multiple US officials on Wednesday, including by Secretary of State Antony Blinken and National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby, both of whom characterised the offer as “substantial”. Mr Blinken also told reporters he hoped to raise the issue of Ms Griner and Mr Whelan in talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov “in the coming days”.
But Mr Peskov told reporters in Riga, Latvia, that no hard-and-fast agreement had been hammered out yet.
“There are no agreements yet which are finalised,” he said, adding later that he was surprised by the decision to acknowledge the proposal by US officials.
“It is known that while discussing such issues, information throw-ins are not normally made,” he said, because such public announcements are usually “about agreements that have been completed”.
Mr Kirby, who spoke to reporters at Wednesday’s daily White House briefing, said the offer to trade convicted arms dealer Viktor Bout for Ms Griner and Mr Whelan was communicated to Moscow “several weeks ago”.
“We certainly hope that that Russia will favourably engage on it, but I don't want to get into more detail about that,” he said. “We believe that this is a serious proposal, and we want the Russians to take it seriously as well”.
The offer to return Bout, who is currently serving a 25-year prison sentence for arms trafficking, comes more than five months after Ms Griner, a 31-year-old WNBA star, was seized at a Moscow airport and held on charges on possessing cannabis.
Mr Kirby said the cases of Ms Griner and Mr Whelan — a former US marine who has been jailed in Russia on espionage charges since 2018 — have been “at the top of the mind” for President Joe Biden and his “whole national security team”.
Additional reporting by agencies
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