Russia 'Ready to Discuss' Prisoner Swap with U.S. After Brittney Griner Sentencing

Russia Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Friday during a news conference that Moscow was "ready to discuss this topic"

Brittney Griner.Photo: YURI KOCHETKOV/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

One day after WNBA star Brittney Griner was sentenced in a drug smuggling trial to nine years in a penal colony, Russia has indicated it is ready to discuss a prisoner swap, according to multiple outlets.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Friday that Moscow was "ready to discuss this topic" during a news conference at a meeting with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Cambodia, according to NBC News.

"There is a special channel that has been agreed upon by the presidents, and no matter what anyone says publicly, this channel remains relevant," Lavrov said about any diplomatic talks between President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken, at a press conference in Phnom Penh Friday, said Russia is "prepared to engage through channels we've established ... and we'll be pursuing that," according to the news outlet.

On Thursday, Pres. Biden called Griner's sentence "unacceptable."

"Today, American citizen Brittney Griner received a prison sentence that is one more reminder of what the world already knew: Russia is wrongfully detaining Brittney. It's unacceptable, and I call on Russia to release her immediately so she can be with her wife, loved ones, friends, and teammates. My administration will continue to work tirelessly and pursue every possible avenue to bring Brittney and Paul Whelan home safely as soon as possible," the president said in a statement.

Last Wednesday, an official in the Biden administration confirmed to PEOPLE that the Biden administration had "made a substantial proposal to bring Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan [another American imprisoned in Russia] home weeks ago."

According to CNN, the U.S. offered to trade 31-year-old Griner and Whelan for convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout. The outlet said Russian officials also requested that the U.S. include convicted murderer and former Russian spy Vadim Krasikov in the package.

A U.S. official told PEOPLE Thursday that the Biden Administration is "still waiting" on Russia to respond to the offer.

Following yesterday's verdict, Griner's lawyers said they are disappointed, but also looking ahead to an appeal.

"We are very disappointed and very upset by this verdict," Maria Blagovolina, a partner at Rybalkin Gortsunyan Dyakin and Partners, tells PEOPLE just hours after the decision.

"Sentences for this article of the criminal court, they usually not so severe. Usually, it's like five and a half or six years. So nine years, it's pretty unusual, and it contradicts the existing court practice in Russia."


Blagovolina, along with another member of Griner's legal team, Alexander Boykov of the Moscow Legal Center, say they intend to appeal the sentence, and must do so within 10 days. While they don't know if it will make a difference, Blagovolina says they have to try.

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"We need to use every legal opportunity that we have, and appeal is one of these opportunities," she says.

​​If Russia and the U.S. agree to an exchange, Griner's legal team would drop the appeal process "immediately," Boykov says, and the WNBA star would "proceed to depart."

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