Top US, Russian diplomats hold 1st call since start of Ukraine war

Antony Blinken says he used conversation to push Russia for release of 2 detained Americans.

Top US, Russian diplomats hold 1st call since start of Ukraine war

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he spoke with his Russian counterpart on Friday for the first time in nearly six months to press Moscow to accept a US proposal for the release of two Americans detained in Russia. 

Blinken declined to outline Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s response to the “significant proposal” the US put forward weeks ago, but said it was “important” that Lavrov heard directly from him on the matter. 

“I urged Foreign Minister Lavrov to move forward with that proposal,” Blinken said, describing the conversation as “frank and direct.”

At issue is the release of Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan, two Americans who remain in Russian custody.

Griner, 31, is a basketball player who was arrested in February after Russian authorities said they found marijuana oil in her possession. She pleaded guilty earlier in July to drug charges but has maintained she used medicinal cannabis to treat pain and denied she intended to violate Russian law.

Whelan has been held in Russia since 2018 on espionage charges.

The US has not offered details about its proposal but CNN reported on Wednesday that the Biden administration offered to swap convicted Russian arms trafficker Viktor Bout for the two Americans.

Bout is currently serving a 25-year prison sentence and the Justice Department has voiced opposition to the potential exchange, according to CNN.

In addition to the US offer, Blinken said he “made clear” to Russia that the possible annexation of additional Ukrainian territory “would never be accepted.”

“The world will not recognize annexations. We will impose additional significant costs on Russia if it moves forward with its plans,” he said.

“We’ll also continue to stand with Ukraine, support its ability to defend itself, and impose costs on Russia until it ends its aggression.”