Russia is ready to discuss a prisoner swap for imprisoned Americans, said its foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, but added that the Kremlin would resist public pressure to free US basketball star Brittney Griner and others being held in Russian prisons.
Lavrov’s remarks came a day after Griner received a nine-year prison sentence on drug charges that were seen as a gambit to demand an exchange for high-profile Russians in prison in the US, including the arms trafficker Viktor Bout.
“We are ready to discuss the issue [of a swap], but this should be done via the channel approved by the presidents, Putin and Biden,” Lavrov said during a press conference in Cambodia.
He referred to a backchannel that had been set up by Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin, saying “no matter who says what in public, this channel remains relevant”.
That backchannel appeared to have been successful in arranging the release of Trevor Reed, an ex-marine who had been detained in Russia for more than two years before he was exchanged in April for Konstantin Yaroshenko, a Russian pilot who had been held for more than a decade on drug smuggling charges.
But Lavrov also warned that Russia would not respond to “megaphone diplomacy”, demanding that any negotiations be carried out discreetly.
“If this is another case of the Americans resorting to public diplomacy and loud statements on their pending steps, it’s their business or I would even say their problem, because the Americans often fail to honour the agreement on doing calm, professional work,” he said.
On Friday afternoon at the White House, Joe Biden said he was “hopeful” about the prospects for the basketball star.
When asked after a bill-signing if he had a comment about Griner, the US president said, before leaving the event: “I’m hopeful. We are working hard.”