“We put a substantial proposal on the table weeks ago to facilitate their release,” Blinken said in remarks at the State Department. “Our governments have communicated repeatedly and directly on that proposal and I’ll use the conversation to follow up personally and I hope move us toward a resolution.”
Blinken said he plans to speak with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in the coming days and will bring up the proposal to free both Americans, who the U.S. says have been wrongfully detained by Moscow. The conversation will be the first time that the two have spoken since Russia invaded Ukraine at the end of February.
WNBA's Griner says poor translation clouded arrest in Russia
KHIMKI, Russia (AP) — American basketball star Brittney Griner testified Wednesday at her drug trial in Russia that a language interpreter translated only a fraction of what was said during her questioning and officials instructed her to sign documents without providing an explanation. Griner was arrested at a Moscow airport in February. She acknowledged in court earlier this month that she had vape cartridges containing cannabis oil in her luggage when she arrived in Russia but contends she had no criminal intent and packed the cartridges inadvertently.
Blinken repeatedly declined to divulge any details of the proposal given to the Russians, but CNN is reporting that the administration has offered to swap convicted Russian arms trafficker Viktor Bout in exchange for the release of Whelan and Griner.
“I can’t and won’t get into any of the details of what we proposed to the Russians,” Blinken told reporters when asked about that report on Wednesday.
Blinken said that the proposal had been raised directly with Russian officials “on a number of occasions” but would not characterize their response to it.
“My hope would be in speaking to Foreign Minister Lavrov, I can advance the efforts to bring them home,” Blinken said.
Video: Blinken: ‘Substantial proposal’ made to Russia for release of Britney Griner and Paul Whelan (MSNBC)
Russia's Lavrov says he will discuss US prisoner swap offer
MOSCOW (AP) — Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Friday that he's open to a call with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken to discuss a possible prisoner swap involving American basketball star Brittney Griner. Blinken said Wednesday that Washington had offered Russia a deal that would bring home Griner and another jailed American, Paul Whelan. A person familiar with the matter said the U.S. government proposed trading convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout for Whelan and Griner.
White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby also said he would not discuss specific individuals when asked about reporting that the administration offered swap outs. He stressed that the president is focused on getting Whelan and Griner home.
“We’ve made a proposal. We urge the Russians to move positively on that proposal so that we can get these two individuals home,” Kirby told reporters.
Whelan was detained in Russia in December 2018 on spying charges that he vehemently denies and has since been sentenced to 16 years in prison. Griner, a popular basketball star, was detained for bringing vape cartridges with hashish oil into Russia in February. Griner pleaded guilty earlier this month.
The Biden administration has faced pressure to secure the release of both Whelan and Griner, particularly after a prisoner swap earlier this year secured the release of former U.S. Marine Trevor Reed from Russia but did not include the other Americans held by Moscow.
Paul Whelan's family breaks silence on proposed prisoner swap with Russia
Paul Whelan's twin brother, David Whelan, spoke to ABC News' Robin Roberts during an interview Thursday on "Good Morning America." "The offer that the U.S. government has made -- and extraordinarily made public -- is super. Hopefully the Russian government will take the concessions that have been made and allow Paul to come home," Whelan's twin brother, David Whelan, told ABC News' Robin Roberts during an interview Thursday on "Good Morning America.
President Biden, who Blinken said signed off on the proposal to the Russians, recently spoke with Griner’s wife Cherelle and Whelan’s sister Elizabeth.
His announcement comes about a week after Biden signed an executive order directing the administration to share more information with families of Americans held abroad and authorizing sanctions on those “directly or indirectly” involved in hostage-taking or wrongful detention of Americans.
Blinken said Wednesday that the administration is guided by two objectives of bringing Americans wrongfully detained overseas home and dissuading the practice of foreign countries jailing Americans.
Blinken also said he planned to raise the deal between Russia and Ukraine to facilitate grain exports from Ukrainian ports that was recently brokered by Turkey. A Russian strike on the Ukrainian port city of Odessa over the weekend threw the deal into doubt.
This story was updated at 4:18 p.m.
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Inside the Russian Penal Colony Where Brittney Griner Will Serve Her 9-Year Prison Sentence .
"I hope that she will be sent to a colony with a lenient governor who allows her to coach basketball in the daytime rather than being a seamstress," Ivan Melnikov, a human rights activist, tells PEOPLEAfter nearly six months in Russian custody, Brittney Griner was sentenced Thursday to nine years in prison and will begin her stay in a Russian penal colony.