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Senior Russian official says he“s unaware of more prisoner swap talks with U.S.


Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov attends a meeting of Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov with Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian in Moscow, Russia March 15, 2022. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov/Pool

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said on Tuesday that he knew of no new scheduled contacts with the United States regarding further prisoner swaps in the wake of a high-profile exchange last week, Russia’s Interfax news agency reported.

He was responding to comments by U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, who told reporters on Monday that Washington expected an “engagement” with Moscow this week on the case of Paul Whelan, an American serving a 16-year sentence in Russia for espionage.

Interfax quoted Ryabkov as saying: “I don’t know what they have in mind. As the president has already said, we have a department dealing with this matter. According to my information, no contacts are expected on this subject through the lines that I know about.”

It was not clear if Ryabkov was ruling out Russian participation in talks this week, or if a meeting might be planned without his knowledge. Russia has previously said contacts with the United States on prisoner exchanges were being conducted by the two countries’ intelligence services.

Whelan was not included in a prisoner swap last week that saw Russia free U.S. basketball star Brittney Griner, serving a nine-year sentence in Russia on a drugs charge, in return for Viktor Bout, a Russian jailed for arms trafficking in the United States. Washington says Whelan is unjustly imprisoned and it is determined to bring him home.

Russian and U.S. diplomats met in Istanbul last Friday to discuss a number of technical issues in their relationship, which is bedevilled with disputes including over embassy staffing levels.

Russian news agencies quoted Ryabkov as saying the consultations had been useful but there was no progress on substantive issues including visa and embassy questions.

Russia said last week that 30 more of its embassy staff would have to leave the United States on Jan. 1 due to visa restrictions. Ryabkov said Russia would “respond” to this.

The two countries would continue talks on points of contention in the new year, he said.

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