Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will “pay attention” to the US State Department’s request to speak with Secretary of State Antony Blinken when “time permits,” a Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson said, according to state-run news agency RIA Novosti.
“Now he has a busy schedule with international contacts: the SCO Ministerial Council in Tashkent, bilateral meetings,” said spokesperson Maria Zakharova.
The US State Department said earlier that Russia had “acknowledged” the request from the United States for a call between Blinken and Lavrov, and the two countries have been going “back and forth” on the request.
“Foreign Minister Lavrov is in the midst of travel so I don’t have any update to provide in terms of when they may be able to connect,” said State Department spokesperson Ned Price. “But we continue to discuss that in the appropriate channels.”
Prisoner swap: Price reiterated that Blinken planned to use the call to follow up on the “substantial proposal” to free Americans detained in Russia, Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan, which CNN first reported is a proposed prisoner swap for convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.
Price on Thursday suggested that Moscow has not meaningfully engaged on the proposal.
“The fact that, now several weeks later, we are where we are, I think you can read into that as being a reflection of the fact that this has not moved to the extent we would like,” Price said.
Price noted that the deal has been conveyed to Russia “repeatedly” and “directly” over the course of several weeks, and he reiterated that Blinken intended to raise it in an expected call with Lavrov.
CNN reported earlier Thursday that Biden administration officials are frustrated that Moscow has yet to respond in a meaningful way to the proposal. Officials told CNN that they felt Moscow would jump at the offer, but it is now almost August and they have not received a substantive response.
Asked if the Russians had presented any counter-proposals and whether the US was prepared to add more to the deal on the table, Price said he would not “negotiate in public.”
The spokesperson said the “one single overriding interest” is the release of Griner and Whelan, noting they “are going to be careful in everything we do, and everything we say not to run afoul of that overriding priority, not to do anything, not to say anything that might set back that ultimate goal.”