WASHINGTON — US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke Friday with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in their first contact since the Ukraine invasion, saying he pressed him to accept a proposal to release WNBA star Brittney Griner and another American detainee, Paul Whelan.
Blinken did not provide details of Lavrov’s response to what he had previously called a “substantial proposal.”
He had publicly requested the call and revealed the existence of the offer to Russia — which people familiar with it say involves a swap for Whelan and Griner with convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.
Blinken described the call as “a frank and direct conversation” centered primarily on the proposal for the release of the Americans.
“I urged Foreign Minister Lavrov to move forward with that proposal. I can’t give you an assessment of whether that is any more or less likely.”
Blinken also said he had pressed Lavrov on the importance of Russia following through on an agreement to allow Ukrainian grain shipments to leave the Black Sea and warned him of consequences should Moscow move ahead with suspected plans to annex portions of eastern and southern Ukraine.
Blinken said he told Lavrov that the world will “never recognize” any annexation of Ukrainian territory, which he said would “will result in significant additional costs for Russia.”
In its statement afterward, the Russian Foreign Ministry said Lavrov “strongly suggested” to Blinken “returning to a professional dialogue in the mode of quiet diplomacy” on any efforts for the American detainees’ release.
Lavrov also repeated Russia’s vows to keep fighting until it has achieved its aims in Ukraine, renewed complaints that US and NATO support to Ukraine was prolonging the conflict, and accused the US of not yet keeping up its end of agreements on the grain shipments from Ukraine, the Foreign Ministry said.