Russia, US Engage In "Extremely Delicate" Prisoner Exchange Talks

Russian President Vladimir Putin said last week that Moscow hoped to reach an agreement but that Washington needed to listen to Russia's conditions, which he did not specify.

Russia, US Engage In 'Extremely Delicate' Prisoner Exchange Talks

Russia rejected a "new" proposal for the release of Paul Whelan, said US

Moscow:

A top Russian diplomat said Moscow and Washington were still engaged in sensitive negotiations over a prisoner exchange, but accused the US side of leaking details to the media.

The United States said on Dec. 5 that Russia had rejected a "new and significant" proposal for the release of Paul Whelan, a former US marine serving a 16-year sentence in Russia for spying, and US reporter Evan Gershkovich, awaiting trial in Moscow on espionage charges. Both men deny they are spies and the US has designated them as "wrongfully detained" by Russia.

Deputy Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told Interfax news agency in an interview published on Friday: "The issue of exchanges of citizens serving prison terms in Russia and the United States is extremely delicate. Decisions in this area are often hampered by being actively discussed in public."

He said that contacts about possible exchanges were conducted by the intelligence services of both countries.

"It is interesting that the participants in these contacts on the American side insist on their complete confidentiality. We also adhere to this line, but then certain twists occur when the White House regularly arranges 'leaks' and begins to discuss sensitive issues in the public space."

Russian President Vladimir Putin said last week that Moscow hoped to reach an agreement but that Washington needed to listen to Russia's conditions, which he did not specify.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Wednesday that Washington was very actively pursuing the release of Whelan and Gershkovich and would "leave no stone unturned" to find a way of getting them home.

The two countries have agreed high-profile prisoner swaps in the past - most recently in December 2022 when Moscow traded Brittney Griner, a US basketball star convicted of a drugs offence in Russia - for Russian arms trafficker Viktor Bout.

The Wall Street Journal has vehemently denied that its reporter Gershkovich is a spy. He was detained in March and accused of trying to obtain military secrets.

Whelan, arrested in 2018, was quoted by the BBC this week as saying he felt "abandoned" by the United States and his life was "draining away" in a Russian penal colony.

The White House said on Thursday it was "very concerned" about reports that Whelan felt under physical threat in prison.

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