Russian officials confirmed on Thursday that they are negotiating with the United States over a prisoner swap.
US officials have reportedly proposed exchanging WNBA star Brittney Griner and former Marine Paul Whelan for notorious Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.
Russian foreign ministry deputy spokesman Ivan Nechayev said at a news briefing that “corresponding competent authorities have been instructed to negotiate the issue” and “are in talks” on the matter, according to Russian news outlet Tass.
Nechayev also urged reporters and the public “not to speculate on the sensitive issue affecting specific individuals.”
“We would recommend abandoning futile attempts to put pressure on us and we are calling on them to concentrate on practical work along the available channels,” he said, according to Tass. “We proceed from the fact that the negotiations should take the interests of both sides into account.”
Earlier this month, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the Kremlin was ready to negotiate with the US after the Biden administration reportedly offered the two-for-one swap involving Griner and Whelan.
Former US Ambassador to the United Nations Bill Richardson, who has been talking to both sides, predicted Sunday that Whelan and Griner will be freed in a “two-for-two” swap with Moscow.
Griner was arrested in Russia in February for bringing cannabis oil cartridges into the country, where marijuana is illegal. She was sentenced to nine years in prison last week.
Whelan was detained in Russia in 2018 on spying charges he denies and sentenced to 16 years in prison.
President Biden last week said he was “hopeful” and “working hard” to secure the release of the prisoners.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters last week the president “has to feel hopeful” because the exchange was something “important to him.”
“We have made a substantial sacrifice to bring Brittney and Paul Whelan home,” she said. “They need to be home. They should be home. They are being wrongfully detained.”