Basketball: Russia ready to discuss Griner prisoner swap with US, says Lavrov

US basketball player Brittney Griner at the Khimki City Court in Russia on Aug 4, 2022. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

(REUTERS, NYTIMES) - Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Friday (Aug 5) that Moscow is ready to discuss prisoner exchanges with Washington through an existing diplomatic channel.

"We are ready to discuss this topic, but within the framework of the channel that was agreed upon by Presidents Putin and Biden," Lavrov said.

A Russian court sentenced US basketball star Brittney Griner to nine years in prison on drug charges on Thursday.

Her sentencing could now pave the way for a US-Russia prisoner swap that would include the 31-year-old athlete and a prolific Russian arms dealer.

The United States had pushed Moscow to accept a deal that aims to secure the release of two Americans detained in Russia, one of which is Griner.

"It's a serious proposal. We urge them to accept it. They should have accepted it weeks ago when we first made it," said White House national security spokesperson John Kirby, without offering details.

Washington has offered to exchange Russian arms trafficker Viktor Bout, who is serving a 25 year-prison sentence in the United States, for Griner and former US Marine Paul Whelan, sources familiar with the situation have told Reuters.

Russia had tried to add convicted murderer Vadim Krasikov, who is in prison in Germany, to the proposed swap, a source familiar with the proceedings also told Reuters.

Hours after Phoenix Mercury centre Griner was sentenced, players from her team and Women's National Basketball Association opponents the Connecticut Sun locked arms pre-game as a 42-second moment of silence was held, with the 42 representing Griner's Phoenix jersey number.

Mercury guard Skylar Diggins-Smith said after the game, adding an expletive: "Nobody even wanted to play today. How are we even supposed to approach the game and approach the court with a clear mind when the whole group is crying before the game?"

Many WNBA players, like Griner, go overseas during the off-season to play for international teams to supplement their income.

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