'Merchant of Death' free?: Russia ready to negotiate exchange of Griners

The conviction of basketball player Griner puts Russia in a good negotiating position in the exchange of Russians imprisoned in the United States.

'Merchant of Death' free?: Russia ready to negotiate exchange of Griners

The conviction of basketball player Griner puts Russia in a good negotiating position in the exchange of Russians imprisoned in the United States. There is speculation about a deal that would free arms dealer Bout. Moscow's government has commented on the subject for the first time.

According to Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Russia is ready to discuss with Washington a prisoner swap for US basketball player Brittney Griner, who was convicted on Thursday. Moscow is "ready to talk about the issue," Lavrov said at a press conference during a visit to Cambodia. However, a direct communication channel between Presidents Vladimir Putin and Joe Biden, which had been agreed between the two, must be maintained.

There has been speculation about a prisoner exchange in the Griner case for some time. According to the defense, this step will also become legally possible after the court verdict is announced. Biden had assured Griner's wife last month that Washington was working on the matter.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said last week that the United States had made a serious offer in Moscow for the release of imprisoned US citizens - including Griner and former soldier Paul Whelan. In exchange, the US government is willing to extradite convicted arms dealer Viktor Bout, known as the "Dealer of Death," to Russia, according to an insider.

Russia had recently not commented on speculation about a prisoner exchange. One should not conduct negotiations in the press, said Russian Presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov. The United States recently stated that in return Moscow is demanding, among other things, the release of the Russian Vadim K., who has been sentenced to life imprisonment in Germany for the Tiergarten murder.

Griner was sentenced to nine years in prison on Thursday for drug smuggling. The court found the 31-year-old guilty of smuggling and possession of a "substantial amount" of drugs, the judge said. According to the verdict, passed by a court in the Moscow suburb of Khimki, Griner is to serve the nine-year sentence in a penal colony. She was also sentenced to a fine of one million rubles (about 16,000 euros).

In February - shortly before the start of the Russian military operation in Ukraine - she was arrested after her arrival at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport. Cartridges for e-cigarettes with cannabis oil were found in their luggage. According to the public prosecutor's office, the amount corresponded to less than one gram of cannabis in solid form.

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