Aug 05, 2022
US will be ‘pursuing’ prisoner swap with Russia, Blinken says
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Secretary of State Antony Blinken confirmed that the department will reengage with Russia regarding a prisoner swap following an announcement from a top Kremlin official who said the country was "ready" for such talks.
In a shocking turn away from standard U.S. procedure, Blinken notified reporters last month that the United States had made a "substantial" offer to the Kremlin to get WNBA superstar Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan back, both of whom are Americans who were convicted in Russia's judicial system, which overwhelmingly results in guilty verdicts, despite the administration's belief that they are being wrongfully detained.It is widely speculated that the exchange would be for convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.
The announcement of the offer occurred during Griner's trial, and the Russians, who publicly noted Blinken's surprising admission, essentially held off until Griner's trial had concluded. She was sentenced to nine years in prison on drug charges Thursday after she pleaded guilty.
BRITTNEY GRINER TRIAL: WNBA STAR FOUND GUILTY AND SENTENCED TO NINE YEARSWNBA star and two-time Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner is escorted to a courtroom for a hearing in Khimki, just outside Moscow, Russia, on Monday, June 27, 2022. Griner is to appear in court Monday for a preliminary hearing ahead of her trial. Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP
Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov were both in Cambodia on Friday for a meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Summit. While there, the Kremlin leader revealed that Russia is "ready" to discuss a deal and that President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Joe Biden had previously agreed on a diplomatic channel that should be used to discuss prisoner exchanges.
"We are ready to discuss this topic, but within the framework of the channel that was agreed upon by Presidents Putin and Biden," Lavrov stated. "If the Americans decide to once again resort to public diplomacy ... that is their business, and I would even say that it is their problem."
Following his comments, Blinken responded, "What Foreign Minister Lavrov said this morning, and said publicly, is that they are prepared to engage through channels we've established to do just that, and we'll be pursuing that."
Griner's conviction, he said, "further compounds the injustice that's being done to her and her wrongful detention. It puts a spotlight on our very significant concern with Russia's legal system and the Russian government's use of wrongful detentions to advance its own agenda, using individuals as political pawns. The same goes for Paul Whelan."
A spokesperson for the Office of the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs declined to provide details on how Griner's case has changed given her conviction.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Friday that Russia would not discuss a possible deal publicly, saying, “If we discuss through the press some exchange-related nuances, then these exchanges will never take place. The Americans have already made this mistake,” according to CNN.
While the U.S. supposedly offered Bout for Griner and Whelan, the Russians allegedly rebuffed the deal and asked for the inclusion of a former colonel from the country’s domestic spy agency who was convicted of murder in Germany last year.
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Griner was detained in a Moscow-area airport in February after bringing vape cartridges with her into the country and has been detained since then. She said during the trial that it was unintentional and that she was prescribed them for pain.
Professor Peter Maggs, an expert on Russian law who teaches at the University of Illinois’s law school, told the Washington Examiner in an interview that Griner will be sent to a penal labor camp to serve her sentence, though he doesn’t think it’ll be one of the harsher ones in Russia.
Maggs expects Griner’s attorneys will appeal the decision but thinks it’s “very unlikely” that it’d get reversed, though he said there was a small chance her sentence could be reduced. It could be a matter of days, weeks, months, or years until both sides agree to a swap, Maggs noted, referring to the negotiations as “a bargaining game exchange.”
Russia and the U.S. agreed to a prisoner swap this spring that resulted in Trevor Reed, a former U.S. Marine whom the government also considered wrongfully detained, returning to the U.S. in exchange for Russian drug trafficker Konstantin Yaroshenko. Reed's deteriorating health affected the president's call to make the deal.
The U.S. and Russia's diplomatic ties have reached recent lows following a February invasion of Ukraine that has destroyed the country's infrastructure, killed thousands, displaced millions, and risked a global food shortage during the war's first six months.Brittney Griner News Defense National Security State Department Antony Blinken
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Japanese support for a nuclear restart is at its highest since Fukushima disaster, says former IEA executive director
VIDEO2:5902:59Chair of Japanese government-led forum discusses prospect of an energy crisisSquawk Box Asia
In a first for Japan, public support for a nuclear restart is now at more than 60% since the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011, said a former executive director of the International Energy Agency, citing a possible energy shortage and a "very cold winter" as reasons.
"Japanese public support's more than 60%, and it was the first time ever that support of nuclear power is starting to come over 50% after (the) Fukushima accident," said Nobuo Tanaka, now the chair of the Innovation for Cool Earth Forum. He was speaking at the 2022 Global Supertrends Conference.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida announced in May that the country will take firm steps to restart idled nuclear power plants to stabilize energy supply and prices.
In 2011, the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant was hit by a massive earthquake and tsunami, which killed nearly 16,000 people and caused the world's worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in 1986.
Though there have been reservations among the Japanese public over the use of nuclear energy, particularly when it comes to the issue of safety, Tanaka said the future of nuclear power is a safer one, and stressed the importance of minimizing risk and maintaining "peaceful use" of nuclear power.Energy crisis
Tanaka attributed the increase in public support to the possibility of "serious problems by the end of this year" if Japan does not have nuclear power.VIDEO3:1003:10Energy prices will continue to rise higher, says Energy Aspects' Amrita SenSquawk Box
He added that Russia supplies 9% of Japan's natural gas, and losing that supply could spell trouble for the country as it would have to secure resources from alternative sources, which would lead to a spike in energy prices.
Japan has repeatedly criticized Russian aggression in Ukraine and has slapped Moscow with economic sanctions. In response, Russia sanctioned over 300 Japanese lawmakers in July.
Russia recently cut gas supplies to Europe via the Nord Stream 1 pipeline to just a fifth of its capacity. Moscow has repeatedly denied it is weaponizing fossil fuel supplies over the Russia-Ukraine war.VIDEO1:3501:35Japan will have to continue buying LNG from Russia: JefferiesSquawk Box Asia
Tanaka said that Japan wants to secure energy supplies but also work toward reaching carbon neutrality by 2050, and striking that balance could prove increasingly challenging.
Nuclear power has been touted as an important option for decarbonization.
"Japan is trying to secure the supply of energy, especially electricity, while trying to maintain the targets of carbon neutral by 2050 intact. So this is really (a) challenge for Japan to do many things," he said.
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