The Kremlin says it is open to talking about a possible prisoner exchange involving American basketball star Brittney Griner but strongly warned Washington against publicising the issue.
A judge convicted Griner, 31, on Thursday of drug possession and smuggling, and sentenced her to nine years in prison.
Griner, recognised as one of the greatest players in WNBA history, has been detained since February 17 after police said they found vape cartridges containing cannabis oil in her luggage upon landing at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport. She was returning to Russia, where she has competed since 2014.
The two-time US Olympic champion and an eight-time all-star with the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury, listened with a blank expression as an interpreter translated the verdict by Judge Anna Sotnikova, but her lawyers said later she was “very upset.” Griner also was fined one million rubles (about £13,400).
WNBA star and two-time Olympic gold medallist Griner was sentenced to nine years in prison on Thursday
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke last week to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov about a trade to free Griner, and the two of them were both in Cambodia for an Asian summit on Friday.
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US President Joe Biden denounced as “unacceptable” the verdict and sentence, which came amid soaring tensions between the US and Russia over Ukraine.
Lavrov said Moscow was ready to discuss a prisoner swap but that Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin only could talk about a deal via confidential channels.
Griner held up personal photos during the hearing
Lavrov said: “There is a special channel [of communication] agreed upon by presidents. No matter what anyone says publicly, this channel remains relevant. If the Americans decide to rely on public diplomacy and make loud statements that they are going to take some steps, that is their business, and I would say, their problem.
“Because Americans often can’t stand agreements on quiet, professional work, not only on this topic, on many other topics. That’s the answer: we are ready to discuss this topic, but within the framework agreed upon by the presidents, (Vladimir) Putin and (Joe) Biden.”