US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said yesterday that he had a telephone conversation with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, in which he urged the Kremlin to accept Washington’s “substantial proposal” to release Americans detained in Russia.
According to Blinken and the Russian Foreign Ministry, the two sides stuck to their current positions in the first such dialogue since Russia’s offensive on Ukraine began on February 24.
“We had an open and direct conversation,” Blinken told a press conference at the State Department: “I urged the Kremlin to accept the substantive proposal we made regarding the release of Paul Whelan and Brittney Grener.”
Lavrov suggested to Blinken that both sides should return to peaceful diplomacy on the issue of prisoner exchange.
“Regarding the possible exchange of Russian and US citizens in prison, the Russian side recommended to handle this in a professional manner and use (quiet diplomacy) rather than speculation,” the Russian Foreign Ministry statement said.
The United States announced this week that it had made an offer to Russia weeks ago to release US basketball star Brittney Greener and former Marine Paul Whelan, who are being held in Russia.
Washington is willing to exchange Russian Viktor Bot, who is serving a 25-year sentence in the United States, as part of the deal, a source familiar with the situation said.
Blinken also assured Lavrov that the world expects Russia to meet its obligations under an agreement with Ukraine to resume grain and fertilizer exports to Turkey, halted by the Ukraine crisis that has exacerbated the global food crisis.
Lavrov told Blinken that it was US sanctions that complicated the global food situation, given that Washington had not fulfilled its promises to exempt Russian food products from sanctions.
Lavrov said Russia would achieve the goals of its own military action in Ukraine, while Blinken considered Russia’s annexation of Ukraine unacceptable.
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