Hopes rose on Friday for a possible prisoner swap between the United States and Russia that could free two detained Americans, after a senior Russian official said he expected swap talks to one day become “a concrete agreement”.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Russia hoped for a “positive outcome” on the issue of exchanging Russian national Viktor Bout, a convicted arms dealer who is serving a 25-year prison sentence. prison in the United States, according to state media TASS.
The possibility of a prisoner exchange is not only possible but is getting stronger, he said, adding that “and the time will come when the prospect becomes a concrete agreement,” TASS reported.
However, the US State Department cautioned against optimism based on Ryabkov’s comments, noting that Russia still has not acted in good faith.
“At the end of the day, actions speak louder than words here,” said State Department senior deputy spokesman Vedant Patel.
In July, CNN reported that the Biden administration had offered to trade Bout as part of a potential deal to secure the release of two Americans in Russian custody, basketball star Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan. But Russian officials have demanded that Vadim Krasikov, a former colonel in the country’s national spy agency, be included in the proposed U.S. exchange of Bout for Griner and Whelan, multiple sources previously told CNN. close to discussions.
“Americans are showing some outward activity. We are professionally engaged through a specially designated channel. We haven’t reached a common denominator yet,” Ryabkov told reporters on Friday, according to TASS. “But there’s no doubt that Viktor Bout is one of those being talked about and we’re certainly hoping for a positive outcome.”
Responding to Ryabkov’s comments at a department briefing, Patel warned that “the Russian government’s failure to seriously negotiate on these issues in established channels or any other channels for that matter runs counter to its public statements. “.
“I’m not going to comment on the details of a proposal other than to say that we have made a substantial offer which the Russian Federation has still not negotiated in good faith,” he also said.
Bout’s attorney, Steve Zissou, told CNN on Friday that this week has been “full of hopeful signs” for a possible prisoner swap.
Zissou said Ryabkov’s comments could mean anything: that a deal could come at any time, or it could just be a reflection of Ryabkov’s answer to a question. Notably, Bout’s artwork he made in prison – which mostly includes sketches of prison scenes – is currently on display at the Russian State Duma.
Zissou has received constant assurances from Russian officials that Bout is at the top of the Russian list for a prisoner exchange. When Zissou met with the Russian ambassador to the United States earlier this year, that assurance was reiterated to him.
Zissou believes an exchange involving only Bout and Griner would be successful and he expressed that view to US officials, he said, but the United States would not agree to this because it does not want agree to any deal that would leave out Whelan.
He also opined that President Joe Biden’s position is strengthened with the midterm elections in the rearview mirror. Biden himself had expressed hope that Russians would engage more seriously following the election.
In August, Zissou told CNN’s New Day he was “confident” his client’s proposed prisoner exchange was going to happen, adding, “Look, it’s no secret that they want He’s been coming back for several years now. They’ve been trying to get him back for decades.
The US State Department, however, played down optimism around the talks on Friday, saying Russia still hasn’t engaged in good faith.
“I will not comment on the details of a proposal other than to say that we have made a substantial offer which the Russian Federation has still not negotiated in good faith,” said the main deputy spokesperson for the Department of Defense. State, Vedant Patel, in a department. Report.
The families of Whelan, detained by Russia on alleged espionage since 2018, and WNBA star Griner, jailed in Moscow for drug possession since February, have urged the White House to secure their release. The State Department said Griner and Whelan were wrongfully detained.
Officials from the US and Irish embassies were able to visit Paul Whelan at his remote penal colony in Russia on Wednesday, his brother said in an email.
On Thursday, Griner’s lawyers confirmed that she had been moved to a penal colony in Yavas, in the Mordovia region of western Russia, ending days of speculation about her fate.
His lawyers, Maria Blagovolina and Alexander Boykov, thanked everyone who reached out.
“First, on behalf of Brittney, we would like to thank everyone who has expressed concern for her,” they said in a statement. “We can confirm that Brittney has started serving her sentence at IK-2 in Mordovia.”
“We visited him earlier this week. Brittney is doing as well as expected and trying to stay strong as she adjusts to new surroundings. Considering that this is a very difficult time for her, there will be no further comments from us.