The planned call would be the first between Blinken and Lavrov since the start of the war in Ukraine, Blinken said. The secretary of state said he would also issue calls on the tentative agreement on grain exports reached last week and the ongoing Russian aggression in Ukraine – direct diplomacy on what he called key issues for the United States and the world.
Blinken and National Security Council spokesman John Kirby did not confirm a CNN report that the Biden administration offered convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout a prisoner swap for Griner and Whelan. Neither would expand on the details of the administration’s proposal.
Kirby, speaking at a White House press briefing, called the proposal “tricky work”, with different factors at play, including discouraging future hostage-taking.
But he said the proposal on the table was “serious…and we want the Russians to take it seriously as well”.
Blinken, during his press conference, reiterated a general commitment against the wrongful imprisonment of Americans – “truly a horrible practice”, he said.
“The president is prepared to make tough decisions if it means the safe return of Americans,” but at the same time, the administration aims to strengthen a global norm against arbitrary detentions, Blinken said.
Griner is on trial in Russia after being arrested at a Moscow airport in February. She admitted in court earlier this month to having vape cartridges containing cannabis oil in her luggage when she arrived in the country, but maintains she had no criminal intent and accidentally packed cartridges.
Whelan, a former Marine, was arrested in December 2018 for espionage and sentenced to 16 years in a Russian prison in June 2020. Observers said the charges were false and violated Whelan’s human rights.
In an interview on Fox News, Kirby said Wednesday that the United States was “working hard on both of these cases.”
“The short answer is that we really hope the Russians will accept this proposal and that we can bring these Americans home,” Kirby said.
At Blinken’s press conference, he called a recent agreement to safely secure Ukrainian grain exports out of ports a “positive step forward.”
“That said, there is a difference between an agreement on paper and an agreement in practice,” Blinken said, regarding the possibility of further Russian violence around Ukrainian ports. “We’ll find out soon enough,” he said.
Blinken also discussed the state of the ongoing war, including Russia’s “groundwork” for annexation.
“Unfortunately, Moscow has given no indication of its willingness to engage meaningfully and constructively, and we have no illusions that this will change anytime soon,” he said. “If and when the time comes, we will bring the full weight of American diplomacy to bear.”