US offers to Russia to ensure release of imprisoned Americans

The Biden administration has offered Russia a deal that aims to bring home basketball star Brittany Griner and another American, Paul Whelan, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said.

Following a sharp reversal of previous policy, Mr Blinken also said he expected to speak to his Kremlin counterpart for the first time before Russia invades Ukraine.

The statement marks the first time the US government has publicly disclosed any coercive action it has taken to secure the release of Griner, who was arrested on drug-related charges at a Moscow airport in February and was arrested on Wednesday. Testimony was given at trial.

Mr Blinken did not give details about the proposed deal, which was pitched weeks ago, although it is unclear whether it will be enough for Russia to release the Americans.

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Brittany Griner is ushered into the courtroom (Evgenia Novozhenina/Pool Photo via AP)

But the public acceptance of the proposal at a time when the US has otherwise left Russia reflects mounting pressure on the administration on Griner and Whelan and its determination to bring them home.

Mr Blinken said Washington wanted a response from Moscow.

Russia has for years expressed interest in the release of Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer once known as a “merchant of death” who was sentenced in 2012 to 25 years in prison on US charges that he illegally There was a plan to sell millions of dollars in weapons.

Mr Blinken said he had requested a call with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. US officials said a willingness to respond to the prisoner’s offer was primary, but not only, which is why the US requested a call with Mr Lavrov on Wednesday.

In what should be the call, it will be the first talks the pair have held since February 15, about a week before Russia invaded Ukraine.

Mr Blinken said he would also talk to Mr Lavrov about the importance of Russia, which adheres to a UN-brokered deal to free several tons of Ukrainian grain from storage, and transfer them to parts of eastern and southern Ukraine. Warns about the dangers of possible Russian attempts to connect ,

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Secretary of State Antony Blinken is seeking to ensure the release of two Americans held in Russia (Saul Loeb/Pool via AP)

Whelan, a Michigan corporate security executive, was sentenced in 2020 to 16 years in prison for espionage. He and his family have vigorously claimed their innocence.

The US government has called the allegations false.

Griner, in Russian custody for the past month, admitted in court this month that vape cartridges containing cannabis oil were in his luggage when he arrived in Moscow in February, but says he had no criminal intent and that he inadvertently packed the cartridges. done.

In his test Wednesday, Griner said he didn’t know how the cannabis oil ended up in his bag, but explained that he had a doctor’s recommendation for it and had packed it hastily.

She said she was pulled aside at the airport after inspectors found the cartridges, but a language interpreter translated only a portion of what she had said during her interrogation and the officers forced her to sign documents without explanation. instructed.

Griner could face up to 10 years in prison if convicted of transporting drugs.