US and Russia ready to negotiate Griner’s release

The day after Brittany Griner was sentenced to a Russian penal colony, top diplomats in the United States and Russia said on Friday that their governments would support American basketball stars and Paul N. imprisoned by Russia.

Diplomats, Foreign Minister Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, told separate news conferences that the talks would be conducted through a channel established earlier by their two presidents.

But in a possible indication of how tense relations are between the two countries, the two people did not sit close to each other during a meeting of foreign ministers of East Asia and partner countries.

On Thursday, Griner received a nine-year sentence from a Russian judge. US officials have said he was “wrongfully detained” and his trial was politically motivated, as tensions remain between the two countries over Russia’s war in Ukraine.

According to people familiar with the proposal, the Biden administration has offered to free an imprisoned Russian arms dealer, Victor Bout, in exchange for Griner and Whelan, a former US Marine who was convicted by a court of espionage in Moscow in 2020 went.

After the meeting on Friday, Lavrov took the opportunity to needle him, making no effort to talk to Blinken.

“Today, there was only one person among us at the table,” Lavrov told a news conference broadcast by the foreign ministry. “I didn’t see him trying to catch me.”

When asked about Lavrov’s comments and Griner’s sentencing, Blinken insisted that discussions would proceed through already established channels.

“As you know, we have made an important proposal that Russia should discuss with us,” Blinken said. “And what Foreign Minister Lavrov said this morning, and said publicly, is that they are ready to connect through the channels that we have set up to do that, and we will pursue that.”

Russian officials have criticized the United States for what they have publicly described as negotiating a prisoner exchange.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov renewed that criticism on Friday. “If we start discussing any specifics of the exchange in the press, this swap will never happen,” Peskov told reporters in Moscow.

Despite sending signals that a possible exchange is possible, Russian officials have insisted that the legal due process must be completed first. Following the verdict on Thursday, Griner’s lawyers said they would appeal the sentence, which would delay the start of his time in the penal colony.

In another important meeting with potential implications of the war in Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, held their second face-to-face talks in less than three weeks in the Russian Black Sea resort city of Sochi. on Friday.

Erdogan has emerged as a key mediator between Ukraine and Russia, which is examining ways out of the economic and political isolation imposed by the West over its invasion of Ukraine. Turkey, a NATO member and a long-disappointed EU applicant, played a key role in striking a deal between the two warring nations to restart Ukrainian grain shipments through the Black Sea.

In brief remarks before the leaders’ discussion began, Putin thanked Erdogan for Turkey’s role in mediating a deal to export Ukrainian grain, which also allowed shipments of Russian grain and fertilizer exports. Great emphasis was placed on economic matters, with Putin expressing hope that the talks would lead to increased trade and economic ties.

Erdogan said the steps taken on issues such as energy, grain, the Black Sea and transport are examples of the important role Turkey and Russia play in the region.

Erdogan is walking a fine line in maintaining the ability to talk to Russia, an enemy of NATO and Western members of the coalition. Turkey has refused to engage in Western sanctions against Russia, irritating its NATO allies, but Erdogan, in a significant move, has agreed to join the coalition as a defense against the Russian invasion of Sweden and Finland. He also downgraded his initial objections.

Russia is a significant supplier of energy to Turkey, providing one-quarter of the country’s crude imports and nearly half of natural gas purchases last year.

Turkey, for its part, is becoming an important transshipment point for goods headed to Russia, with many Western freight companies no longer handling Russia-bound shipments for fear of defying sanctions, Turkish newspaper Dunya reported on Thursday. informed to.

In recent years, Turkey has challenged its NATO partners to buy Russian anti-aircraft missiles. And now Russia – starved of war-related Western sanctions for technology like guidance systems for missiles and drones – is urgently seeking material.

“Military-technical cooperation between the two countries is permanently on the agenda,” Peskov told reporters on Wednesday, according to the Interfax news agency.

In Ukraine, authorities in the southern city of Mykolaiv announced a drastic move on Friday: the area will be cordoned off and placed under a strict curfew over the weekend as law enforcement agencies search for enemy allies.

Officials said the decision came amid a significant increase in Russia’s shelling in the city, which has had only two dozen violence-free days since the war began on February 24.

In recent weeks, officials have issued an increasingly urgent warning about the presence of subversive forces in the city, including those responsible for directing enemy fire at military bases.

Vitaly Kim, the military governor of the Mykolaiv region, urged residents to stock up on food and water and cooperate with any law enforcement officers who may encounter them over the weekend. Public transport will also remain closed.

Kim did not specify how law enforcement agencies plan to go about finding enemy allies, but in recent weeks, he has offered a $100 cash prize out of his own pocket to civilians who turn into suspected allies. go.

“Honest people have nothing to worry about,” Kim said. “We will work on allies.”

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