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Brittney Griner: US urges Russia to accept deal to free jailed basketball star

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The US has urged Moscow to accept a deal to free basketball player Brittney Griner, who has been sentenced to nine years in a Russian prison.

The double Olympic winner was convicted of possessing and smuggling drugs after admitting to possessing cannabis oil.

White House national security spokesman John Kirby said the US offer was “a serious proposal”, but gave no details.

On Friday, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow is ready to discuss the topic.

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US media reports suggest Washington is offering a prisoner swap involving a Russian arms trafficker.

Viktor Bout – known as the “merchant of death” – is serving a 25 year-prison sentence in the US.

He could be transferred by Washington to the Russian authorities in exchange for Griner and former US Marine Paul Whelan, the reports say.

Mr Kirby told reporters that the duo were being wrongfully detained and needed to be let go.

 

On the subject of the US proposal, Mr Kirby said: “We urge them to accept it. They should have accepted it weeks ago when we first made it.”

But according to Reuters news agency, one stumbling block is that Russia wants to add convicted murderer Vadim Krasikov, who is in prison in Germany, to the proposed swap.

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When questioned about this possibility, Mr Kirby dismissed it, saying: “I don’t think we go so far as to even call it a counter-offer.”

Griner, 31, told the court she had made an “honest mistake” and had not intended to break the law.

Soon afterwards, Russia invaded Ukraine and her case has become subject to high-profile diplomacy between the US and Russia.

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Her defence team said they would appeal against the verdict.

Griner’s Phoenix Mercury teammates staged a gesture of solidarity on Thursday, when they and their Connecticut Sun opponents observed 42 seconds of silence before their game, in honour of her number 42 jersey.

US President Joe Biden called her sentencing “unacceptable”, adding: “I call on Russia to release her immediately so she can be with her wife, loved ones, friends, and teammates.”

Meanwhile Secretary of State Antony Blinken added: “Russia, and any country engaging in wrongful detention, represents a threat to the safety of everyone travelling, working and living abroad.”

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A day after Griner’s sentencing, Mr Lavrov said that Moscow is ready to discuss the topic of prisoner exchanges with Washington, but within the framework of an existing diplomatic channel agreed upon by Presidents Putin and Biden, Reuters news agency quotes him as saying.

Both Mr Lavrov and Mr Blinken are now in Cambodia for a meeting of the Association of South-East Asian Nations. The US says Mr Blinken will try to speak with Mr Lavrov again while they are there.

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