The release of American citizens who have been detained will be a topic of conversation when U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, for the first time since the start of the conflict in Ukraine.
“I plan to raise an issue that’s a top priority for us: the release of Americans Paul Whelan and Brittney Griner, who’ve been wrongfully detained and must be allowed to come home,’’ Blinken said.
Late on Wednesday, he made this statement to reporters at the State Department. Since his detention in 2018, Whelan has been held in prison for alleged espionage.
As a result of his detention in February at a Moscow airport, just days before Russian troops invaded Ukraine, American professional basketball star Griner was on trial for a narcotics offense.
The athlete said that she was carrying cannabis for medical purposes when she admitted carrying it to the Khimki court in the Moscow region on Wednesday, according to the Interfax news agency.
In accordance with a doctor’s advice, Griner utilized the medication as a painkiller, which is typical in the United States.
“I had no intention of violating any law of the Russian Federation,’’ Interfax quotes her as saying.
The pre-trial detention for the Olympic champion, who competes in Russia during the American off-season, was most recently extended until December 20.
If convicted guilty of the narcotics possession charge, she may spend up to 10 years in prison.
Blinken disclosed that Washington had made a “substantive proposal” to Moscow many weeks prior, and that the two sides had been debating it ever since in order to enable their release.
“I’ll use the conversation to follow up personally and, I hope, move us toward a resolution.’’
The suggestion was not expanded upon by Blinken.
According to unnamed sources cited by American network CNN, the Biden administration has proposed trading Griner and Whelan for jailed Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.
In 2011, a U.S. court found Bout guilty, and he was already serving a 25-year prison term.
Blinken stated that he would also discuss the recent agreement between Moscow and Kiev to resume Ukrainian grain exports with Lavrov.