Russian officials confirmed they're discussing a potential prisoner exchange involving Phoenix Mercury star Brittney Griner with the United States government.
TASS, a state-owned news agency, provided comments Thursday by Ivan Nechayev, a deputy spokesman for the Russian Foreign Ministry:
"We have repeatedly commented on this. On August 5, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov confirmed that Russia is ready to discuss the issue, but only within the channel negotiated by Russian President [Vladimir Putin] and US President [Joe Biden]. Let me remind you that corresponding competent authorities have been instructed to negotiate the issue. Competent agencies are in talks."
Griner has been wrongfully detained in Russia for 175 days after being arrested in February at a Moscow airport. She was sentenced to nine years in prison after being found guilty of drug possession and smuggling.
President Joe Biden said following her guilty verdict his administration "will continue to work tirelessly and pursue every possible avenue to bring Brittney and Paul Whelan home safely as soon as possible."
CNN's Kylie Atwood, Evan Perez and Jennifer Hansler reported on July 28 the Biden administration was prepared to discuss a prisoner exchange with Russia. In return for Griner and Whelan, a former U.S. Marine arrested in 2018 on espionage charges, the U.S. would release convicted arms trafficker Viktor Bout.
CNN's Natasha Bertrand and Frederik Pleitgen followed up on Aug. 1 to report Russia was also requesting the release of convicted murderer Vadim Krasikov.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken didn't confirm the details of the ongoing discussions behind the scenes, but he told reporters on July 29 the U.S. had tabled a "substantial proposal" that would result in Griner's release.
"I urged Foreign Minister Lavrov to move forward with that proposal," Blinken said. "I can't give you an assessment of whether that is any more or less likely."
Lavrov addressed the situation on Aug. 5 and said Russian officials were "ready to discuss this topic, but within the framework of the channel" that had been agreed upon by Biden and Putin.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov also cautioned U.S. officials against publicizing the matter too much.
"The Americans have already made that mistake, suddenly deciding to use megaphone diplomacy to resolve these issues," he told reporters.