Blinken says he ‘pressed’ Lavrov on release of US prisoners

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said he urged the Kremlin to accept a proposal for the release of two high-profile Americans detained in Russia during a call with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov.

During a news conference in Washington on Friday afternoon, Blinken said he had a “frank and direct conversation” with Lavrov earlier in the day.

“I pressed the Kremlin to accept the substantial proposal that we put forth on the release of Paul Whelan and Brittney Griner,” the top United States diplomat told reporters.

Lavrov had said earlier that Moscow would soon propose a time for a call with Blinken, who this week said he wanted to discuss an exchange of prisoners held in Russian and US jails.

Blinken said on Wednesday that the Biden administration had made a “substantial offer” to obtain the release of Griner, a US basketball star, and Whelan, a former marine.

A source cited by the Reuters news agency said that Washington was willing to exchange convicted arms trafficker Viktor Bout, jailed in the United States, as part of such a deal.

Blinken and Biden had not spoken since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24.

But the families of the US detainees have been increasing pressure on US President Joe Biden’s administration to bring them home, most recently in the case of two-time Olympic gold medallist Griner, who was arrested on drugs charges at a Moscow airport on February 17.

Speaking at a news conference in Uzbekistan, Lavrov said talks on prisoner exchanges had been taking place since a summit last year in Geneva, where Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin had agreed to nominate officials to look into the issue.

He said his ministry was not involved in that, but “nevertheless, I will listen to what he [Blinken] has to say”.

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