Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov says Moscow is hopeful a deal can be made with Washington to exchange prisoners, including convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, who currently is serving a 25-year sentence in a U.S. prison.
“The Americans are showing some external activity. We are working professionally through a special channel designed for this,” Ryabkov told reporters in Moscow on November 18. “Viktor Bout is among those who are being discussed, and we certainly count on a positive result.”
Relations between Moscow and Washington are at a low not seen since the last century, with tensions sent over the top by the Kremlin’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.
A possible prisoner swap is expected to also include women’s basketball star Brittney Griner, who was recently sentenced to nine years behind bars in Russia after being convicted on drug charges, and former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, who is serving a 16-year sentence in Russia after being convicted of espionage charges that he denies.
Ryabkov said Moscow also was ready for high-level talks with Washington regarding “strategic stability,” which includes the New START treaty.
The treaty, signed in 2010 by U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, limits each country to no more than 1,550 deployed nuclear warheads and 700 deployed missiles and bombers, and envisages sweeping on-site inspections to verify compliance.
In February 2021, just days before New START was due to expire, Moscow and Washington agreed to extend it for another five years.
But in August of this year, Russia informed the United States of a freeze on U.S. inspections of its nuclear weapons under the treaty, claiming Western sanctions imposed on Moscow over its ongoing unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, along with visa restrictions, had hampered similar inspections of U.S. facilities by Russian monitors.
Russian and U.S. officials are expected to meet soon in the Egyptian capital, Cairo, from November 29-December 6 to discuss the treaty.
“The Americans know our position. It coincides with what we offered and expressed in the period of time before they unilaterally disrupted it,” Ryabkov said.
Rybakov also emphasized that “there is nothing to talk about” with regard to Ukraine, given the “radically contradicting positions and approaches” the two sides have on the issue.
Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine on February 24. Since then, the United States, NATO, and many of their allies have condemned the move and imposed crippling sanctions on Russia, its government, and many of those close to President Vladimir Putin.
Talks on a prisoner swap may also involve several other U.S. citizens who are currently serving prison terms in Russia.
Last month, another former U.S. Marine, Robert Gilman, was sentenced to 4 1/2 years in prison for attacking a police officer while drunk.
In July, Marc Fogel, a former employee of the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, was sentenced to 14 years in prison for “large-scale” cannabis smuggling and the illegal storage of drugs without a commercial purpose.
The 61-year-old Fogel says the drugs — less than 20 grams of marijuana — were medically prescribed to manage chronic pain from a back injury.
In April, Russia and the United States swapped Trevor Reed for a Russian pilot convicted of drug smuggling. Reed, also a former U.S. Marine, was sentenced to nine years in prison after allegedly attacking police officers while drunk.
With reporting by RIA Novosti and Interfax