Don't read too much into Russia-US prisoner swap – Kremlin
An exchange of high-profile prisoners by Russia and the US this week should not be seen as an indication of improving bilateral relations, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has said. US basketball player Brittney Griner was swapped for Russian businessman Viktor Bout in Abu Dhabi on Thursday.
“Negotiations [between Moscow and Washington] were exclusively about the exchange. It would be wrong to make hypothetical conclusions that it may serve as a step towards escaping the crisis that we currently have in bilateral relations,” said Peskov. “They remain in a poor state.”
He made the remarks on Wednesday in an interview with the newspaper Izvestia on the sidelines of an event in the Central Asian nation of Kyrgyzstan.
Griner was convicted of drug offenses by a Russian court in August. Cannabis oil was found in her luggage as she arrived in the country last February. The athlete stated during her trial that she had brought the banned substance with her by mistake. Top US officials, including President Joe Biden, spoke on her behalf.
Bout was serving a lengthy jail term for weapons trafficking offenses, which he denied committing. He was taken into custody in 2008 during an American sting operation in Thailand and was sentenced by a US court in 2012.
Peskov said the most important news was that “a Russian citizen, who spent 14 years in de facto illegal American captivity, returned to his homeland.” He added that doctors had yet to examine Bout. His family had previously reported that his health had seriously deteriorated while in US custody.
Talks in relation to the exchange had been taking place for months, according to officials in both countries. Russian media first reported on the negotiations in May, citing unnamed sources.
Some critics of the Biden administration have blasted the prisoner deal for supposedly being unfavorable to the US. Former President Donald Trump wondered why retired US Marine Paul Whelan was not included in the agreement. Whelan is serving a 16-year sentence in Russia after being convicted of espionage in 2020.