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U.S. officials: Russia refuses to ‘seriously negotiate’ on Brittney Griner

(Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images)

While a Russian official indicated Friday that the country would be open to a prisoner swap to free detained WNBA star Brittney Griner, the U.S. State Department said Russia still refuses to “seriously negotiate,” ESPN’s T.J. Quinn reported Friday.

Griner has been detained in Russia since February on drug charges. The 32-year-old was convicted and sentenced to nine years in a trial U.S. officials have called a sham, and she recently was moved to a remote penal colony.

The Biden administration is seeking a deal to free Griner and another American detainee, Paul Whelan, from the country.

Sergei Ryabkov, Russia’s deputy foreign minister, commented on the possibility of such a prisoner swap Friday via a Russian news agency — particularly if said deal involves arms dealer Viktor Bout, who is imprisoned in the United States.

“The Americans are showing certain activity and we are working on this through appropriate channels,” Ryabkov said. “We haven’t found uncommon ground yet, but, undoubtedly, Viktor Bout is among those being discussed and obviously we are hoping for a positive result.”

The U.S. State Department, though, contend that Ryabkov misrepresented the status of the negotiations, ESPN’s T.J. Quinn reported.

“We have made a substantial offer that the Russian Federation has consistently failed to negotiate in good faith,” the State Department said. “The U.S. government has continued to follow up on that offer and propose alternative potential ways forward with the Russian government.

“The Russian government’s failure to seriously negotiate on these issues in the established channel, or any other channel for that matter, runs counter to its public statements.”

Russian officials previously had said they wanted to wait until Griner’s legal process was finished to engage in negotiations. That process was completed with Griner’s move to the women’s penal colony in the Russian region of Morovia, located hundreds of miles from Moscow.

President Joe Biden said last week that he hoped Russian President Vladimir Putin would be more willing to negotiate for the releases of Griner and Whelan after the U.S. midterm elections.

“My hope is that now that the election is over, that Mr. Putin will be able to discuss with us and be willing to talk more seriously about a prisoner exchange,” Biden said.