Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Moscow hopes a deal can be struck with Washington to exchange prisoners, including convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, who is currently serving a 25-year sentence in a US prison.
“The Americans are showing some outside activity. We work professionally through a special channel intended for this,” Ryabkov told reporters in Moscow on November 18. “Viktor Bout is among those being discussed and we certainly expect a positive result.”
Relations between Moscow and Washington are at an all-time low for the past century, with tensions escalated by the Kremlin’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.
A possible prisoner swap is also expected to include women’s basketball star Brittney Griner, who was recently sentenced to nine years in Russia on drug charges, and former US Marine Paul Whelan, who is serving a 16-year sentence in Russia after being convicted of espionage, which he denies.
Ryabkov said Moscow is also ready for high-level talks with Washington on “strategic stability,” which includes the new START treaty.
The treaty, signed by US President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in 2010, limits each country to no more than 1,550 deployed nuclear warheads and 700 deployed missiles and bombers, and provides for extensive on-site inspections to verify compliance.
In February 2021, just days before New START expired, Moscow and Washington agreed to a five-year extension.
But this August, Russia informed the United States of a freeze on US inspections of its nuclear weapons under the treaty, claiming Western sanctions against Moscow for its ongoing, unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, along with visa restrictions, have hampered similar inspections at US facilities by Russian observers.
Russian and US officials are expected to meet soon in the Egyptian capital Cairo from November 29 to December 6 to discuss the treaty.
“The Americans know our position. She agrees with what we offered and expressed before they unilaterally interfered with her,” Ryabkov said.
Rybakov also stressed that there is “nothing to discuss” regarding Ukraine, given the “radically contradictory positions and approaches” that both sides have on the issue.
Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine on February 24th. Since then, the United States, NATO and many of their allies have condemned the move and imposed devastating sanctions on Russia, its government and many of those close to President Vladimir Putin.
Several other US citizens currently serving sentences in Russia could also be involved in prisoner swap talks.
Last month another former US Marine, Robert Gilman, was sentenced to 4 1/2 years in prison for assaulting a drunk police officer.
In July, Marc Fogel, a former US Embassy employee in Moscow, was sentenced to 14 years in prison for “large-scale” cannabis smuggling and illegal non-commercial drug storage.
Fogel, 61, says the drugs – less than 20 grams of marijuana – were prescribed by a doctor to treat chronic pain from a back injury.
In April, Russia and the United States traded Trevor Reed for a Russian pilot convicted of drug smuggling. Reed, also a former US Marine, was sentenced to nine years in prison after allegedly drunkenly assaulting police officers.