Blinken Speaks to Russia’s Foreign Minister, Seeking Release of Griner and Whelan.


WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken spoke on Friday to his Russian counterpart, Sergey V. Lavrov, and pressed him to accept a proposal for the release of Brittney Griner and Paul N. Whelan, but reported no breakthrough.

Mr. Blinken told reporters at a news conference that he had spoken to his Russian counterpart by phone, their first conversation since weeks before Russia’s Feb 24. invasion of Ukraine. He did not immediately say how Mr. Lavrov responded.

Ms. Griner, a W.N.B.A. star who had been playing for a Russian team during the off-season, is on trial in a Russian court and faces a sentence of up to 10 years in prison on drug charges. The 31-year-old athlete was detained in a Moscow airport about a week before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, after customs officials discovered hashish oil in her luggage.

Mr. Whelan, a former Marine and corporate security executive, was detained in 2018 in a Moscow hotel, where he had been staying for a friend’s wedding. In 2020, a Russian court sentenced him to 16 years in prison for espionage, a charge that he and his family have denied.

The State Department has classified both Mr. Whelan and Ms. Griner as “wrongfully detained.”

According to a person briefed on the matter, the Biden administration offered last month to trade the Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, who is currently serving a 25-year federal prison sentence in the United States, for Ms. Griner and Mr. Whelan.

Mr. Blinken also said he pressed Mr. Lavrov to make good on a recent Russian agreement to allow the passage of Ukrainian grain from Black Sea ports, and warned him that the world would never accept the further Russian annexation of Ukrainian territory.



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