Russia engaging in ‘silent’ diplomacy with US over Griner prisoner swap, official says

Sketball player Brittney Griner, who was detained at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport and later charged with illegal possession of cannabis, sits in a defendants’ cage after the court verdict in Khimki, outside Moscow, in Russia, August 4, 2022. REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina/Pool

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Aug 18 (Reuters) – Russia’s Foreign Ministry said on Thursday it was engaged in “quiet diplomacy” with the United States over a possible prisoner swap that would include basketball star Brittney Griner.

Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medalist and star of the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA), was sentenced to nine years in prison in Russia for drug trafficking on August 4 in a decision that US President Joe Biden called a “unacceptable”.

“Quiet diplomacy is underway and it should bear fruit if Washington follows it, and not fall into propaganda through hype to score points before an election,” Russian ministry spokesman Ivan Nechayev said. of Foreign Affairs, referring to the US midterm elections. in November.

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The Kremlin previously said US officials were undermining efforts to secure a prisoner swap by using “megaphone diplomacy” over the case.

Washington has offered to swap Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout for Griner and former Marine Paul Whelan, sources familiar with the situation told Reuters.

Whelan, who holds US, UK, Canadian and Irish passports, was sentenced in 2020 to 16 years in prison after being convicted of espionage. He denied the charge.

Griner, who was prescribed medical cannabis in the United States to relieve pain from chronic injuries, was arrested on February 17 at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport with vape cartridges containing hashish oil in her luggage. .

Cannabis is illegal in Russia for medicinal and recreational purposes.

Griner, who pleaded guilty to the charges, said she made an honest mistake by inadvertently packing her vape cartridges as she rushed to catch her flight to Russia.

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Reuters Montage reporting by Mark Heinrich and Nick Macfie

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