Putin says more US prisoner swaps are possible

MOSCOW (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin said Friday that more U.S.-Russian prisoner swaps are possible if Moscow and Washington find a compromise.

Putin spoke a day after Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout was traded for WNBA star and two-time Olympian Brittney Griner.

Asked after a summit in Kyrgyzstan whether more prisoners could be swapped, Putin said ‘everything is possible’, noting that ‘compromises have been reached’ that paved the way for Griner’s exchange for Bout on Thursday. .

“We do not refuse to continue this work in the future,” the Russian leader said, making his first comments on the closely watched trade.

Brittney Griner has been released from a Russian prison. (CNN, RIA, TWITTER, RUSSIAN FEDERAL CUSTOMS SERVICE, WHELAN FAMILY)

Despite negotiations for the release of Griner, the most high-profile American imprisoned abroad, the United States has failed to secure the freedom of another American, Paul Whelan. The Michigan corporate security official has been jailed in Russia since December 2018 on espionage charges that his family and the US government have deemed baseless.

US officials said they saw no immediate path to securing Whelan’s release, saying Russia handled his case differently because of the “dummy espionage” charges against him. Still, they said they believed the channels of communication with the Russians remained open for negotiations over his freedom.

US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said: “We recorded what Mr Putin said, let’s see what he actually does.”

Putin said the US-Russian talks that culminated in Thursday’s exchange did not touch on other topics.

“Whether this could pave the way for dialogue with the United States is a separate question,” he said. “We haven’t set the task to move on from these talks, but they create a certain atmosphere.”

Along the same lines, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that it was the Russian and American intelligence agencies that agreed to exchange Bout for Griner and that their contacts focused exclusively on defining of its specificities.

“It has no impact on the general state of bilateral relations which seems sad,” Peskov said in televised remarks.

Peskov said “the special services could continue their work if necessary”, and also noted the role of the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia in helping broker the swap.

Bout, dubbed the “merchant of death” who supplied arms to some of the world’s worst conflicts and spent more than 14 years behind bars in the United States, was seen in Russia as unjustly imprisoned after an operation to too aggressive American infiltration.

Russian state media welcomed his release, showing footage of him speaking to his family from a private jet after an exchange at Abu Dhabi airport, then hugging his wife and mother on a snowy tarmac in Moscow.

Speaking in an interview for the RT channel with Maria Butina, who also served 18 months in a US prison after being found guilty of acting as an unregistered foreign agent in the United States, Bout said that he still struggled to control his emotions after his imprisonment.

He claimed that the long-standing objective of the West was to destroy Russia.

“The West thinks it failed to finish us off when the Soviet Union started to crumble,” Bout said. “And our efforts to live independently, to be an independent power, come as a shock to them.”

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