Lavrov and Blinken meet for the first time since the war in Ukraine

Lavrov and Blinken meet for the first time since the war in Ukraine

The heads of diplomacy of the United States and Russia spoke on Friday for the first time since the start of the war in Ukraine, with Secretary of State Antony Blinken describing a “frank” discussion in particular about detained Americans by Moscow.

Mr Blinken announced on Wednesday that he planned to contact his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov to discuss a US offer to release basketball player Brittney Griner and ex-soldier Paul Whelan.

It could be an exchange for Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer imprisoned in the United States.

“We had a frank and direct discussion”, declared the American secretary of State during a press conference. “I called on the Kremlin to accept the substantial offer we made to them” concerning Paul Whelan and Brittney Griner.

Mr. Blinken did not wish to describe Mr. Lavrov’s reaction to this proposal.

“I can’t tell you if I think things are more or less likely,” he said. “But it was important that he hear it directly.”

Brittney Griner, international basketball star, has been detained since February in Russia. She was arrested in possession of a cannabis-based vaping liquid.

Paul Whelan, a former security manager for an auto parts company, jailed since 2018, continues to maintain his innocence after being sentenced to 16 years in prison in Russia for espionage.

– “Discreet diplomacy” –

Sergei Lavrov in Addis Ababa (AFP – EDUARDO SOTERAS)

For its part, Russian diplomacy indicated that the two ministers had “exchanged their opinions on the problem of bilateral relations which strongly need to be normalized”.

“Regarding a possible exchange of Russian and American prisoners, the Russian side insisted on returning to the regime of professional dialogue, free from media speculation, within the framework of + discreet diplomacy +”, a- she said in a statement.

Mr. Lavrov also denounced the continued supply of “American and NATO weapons to the Ukrainian armed forces and nationalist battalions, which are widely used against the civilian population, prolonging the agony of the kyiv regime, prolonging the conflict and multiplying the victims”, according to Russian diplomacy.

Mr. Blinken said he warned Mr. Lavrov that the world would “never” recognize the annexation of Ukrainian territories by Russia.

“It was very important for the Russians to hear directly from us that this will not be accepted — and not only will it not be accepted, but it will impose significant additional costs on Russia,” he said.

The US official also said that Russia was preparing “rigged referendums” to try to “falsely demonstrate” that people living in these Ukrainian territories “are seeking to be part of Russia”.

Mr. Blinken also urged his Russian counterpart to ensure that Moscow honors its commitment in the framework of the agreement, negotiated with the help of Turkey, on Ukrainian cereals blocked in Ukrainian ports.

The last telephone conversation between the two men dated back to February 15, when Mr. Blinken had warned Russia against an invasion of Ukraine. Their last meeting in person dates from January 21, when the two men met in Geneva.

Mr. Blinken carefully avoided Mr. Lavrov, a seasoned diplomat known for his sharp and biting wit, at the last G20 meeting in early July in Bali.

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