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"No Public Prisoner Swap Talks" - Kremlin

FILE: WNBA star and two-time Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner is escorted from a court room ater a hearing, in Khimki just outside Moscow. 8.4.2022

After U.S. basketball star Brittany Griner was given a nine year prison sentence for cannabis possession, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: "If we discuss prisoner exchanges via the press then they will never take place".

However, the discussions may well indeed take place.

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Friday said Moscow was willing to discuss the matter.

"We are ready to discuss this subject, but only within the framework of the (communication) channel established by presidents Putin and Biden," Lavrov told a press conference on a visit to Cambodia.

"There is a special channel established by the presidents and despite certain public declarations, it is still functional," he added.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who spoke to Lavrov about the exchange last Friday, said Washington will be "pursuing" discussions with Russia.

He also said Griner's conviction put a spotlight on the "Russian government's use of wrongful detentions to advance its own agenda using individuals as political pawns."

Before the sentencing, Griner had admitted having the vape cartridges containing hashish oil but said she had made an honest mistake by inadvertently packing them.

She tearfully pleaded with a Russian judge not to "end her life" with a harsh prison sentence. The court also fined her 1 million roubles, a rather small sum in U.S. dollars.

U.S. President Joe Biden, under pressure to bring home Americans held in Russia, called on Russia to free Griner immediately and said his administration would continue to work for her release.

"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," he said in a statement.

"It's unacceptable, and I call on Russia to release her immediately so she can be with her wife, loved ones, friends, and teammates."

Now that the sentence has been handed down, it could now pave the way for a U.S.-Russia prisoner swap that would include the 31-year-old athlete and an imprisoned Russian, Viktor Bout, who was once a prolific arms dealer.

This report uses information obtained from Reuters and Agence France-Presse.