U.S. and Russia in prisoner exchange talks

Russia asks for the assassin Vadim Krasikov as a swap for two Americans, causing Washington's rejection.

Talks continue between Russia and the United States on prisoner exchange. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov had a telephone conversation in which they discussed various issues. Washington calls on the Kremlin to accept the "substantial proposal" presented to it to secure the release of two Americans detained in Russia.

Blinken argues that it was a "frank and direct" conversation with Lavrov, and that with it, he is pressuring the Kremlin to accept the proposal for the release of Paul Whelan and Brittney Griner. In exchange, Russia would receive arms dealer Viktor Bout, who is serving a 25-year prison sentence in the United States.

For its part, Russia is trying to add convicted murderer Vadim Krasikov to the swap proposal. Krasikov was convicted of murdering a former Chechen fighter, Zelimkhan "Tornike" Khangoshvili, in Berlin in 2019, for which he was sentenced to life imprisonment.

Who are the detained Americans?

Russia has two Americans in custody for alleged drug possession and espionage activities. In the case of Brittney Griner, she has been detained since February 2022 and in the case of Paul Whelan since 2018. The State Department has stated that both were unjustly detained.

Brittney Griner, the shortest-serving, is a basketball player who was arrested in February at Sheremetyevo airport (Moscow). She is accused of carrying several vape pens in her luggage loaded with cannabis oil, a substance illegal in Russia. The two-time Olympic champion is being held for drug possession and smuggling. In addition, a criminal case was opened against her for "transporting drugs on a large scale". If Griner is convicted, she could face up to 10 years in prison.

In the case of Paul Whelan is a former Marine arrested in 2018 in a Moscow hotel, by agents of the Federal Security Service (FSB, former KGB). He is sentenced to 16 years in prison after being convicted of "espionage activities" on behalf of the United States.

First telephone conversation between the U.S. and Russia

The two senior diplomats remain in their current positions according to statements by Blinken and the Russian Foreign Ministry. Lavrov suggested to Blinken to return to "quiet diplomacy" on the issue of prisoner exchange and stop releasing "speculative information". For his part, the Secretary of State has said that although he cannot give a concrete result, he sees progress in the negotiations. However, this is an important step because it is the first conversation between Russia and the United States since the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24.

National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson has said that "holding two unjustly detained Americans hostage in exchange for the release of a Russian assassin in the custody of a third country is not a serious counteroffer. It is a bad faith attempt to avoid the agreement on the table that Russia should accept."