By Aaron Miller-
The US has urged Moscow to accept a worthwhile deal to free basketball player Brittney Griner, who has been sentenced to nine years in a Russian prison.
The double Olympic winner was convicted of possessing and smuggling drugs after admitting to possessing cannabis oil.
White House national security spokesman John Kirby said the US offer was “a serious proposal”, but gave no details.
On Friday, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow is prepared to discuss the deal, which involves the offer of a prisoner swap involving a Russian arms trafficker.
Viktor Bout – known as the “merchant of death” – is serving a 25 year-prison sentence in the US.
He could be transferred by Washington to the Russian authorities in exchange for Griner and former US Marine Paul Whelan, according to the reports say.
Whelan, who has US, British, Canadian and Irish passports, was sentenced in 2020 to 16 years in jail in Russia after being convicted of spying.
Mr Kirby told reporters that the duo were being wrongfully detained and needed to be let go.
Reuters news agency stated that one stumbling block is that Russia wants to add convicted murderer Vadim Krasikov, who is in prison in Germany, to the proposed swap.
Griner, 31, told the court she had made an “honest mistake” and had not intended to break the law.
Considered one of the best female players in the world, she was detained in February at an airport near Moscow when vape cartridges containing cannabis oil were found in her luggage. She had come to Russia to play club basketball during the US off-season.
Soon afterwards, Russia invaded Ukraine and her case has become subject to high-profile diplomacy between the US and Russia.
Her defence team said they would appeal against the verdict.
Griner’s Phoenix Mercury teammates staged a gesture of solidarity on Thursday, when they and their Connecticut Sun opponents observed 42 seconds of silence before their game, in honour of her number 42 jersey.
US President Joe Biden called her sentencing “unacceptable”, adding: “I call on Russia to release her immediately so she can be with her wife, loved ones, friends, and teammates.”
Meanwhile Secretary of State Antony Blinken added: “Russia, and any country engaging in wrongful detention, represents a threat to the safety of everyone travelling, working and living abroad.”
Mr Blinken raised the issue in a phone call with Mr Lavrov last week, in the first conversation between the two men since the start of the war in Ukraine
She was also ordered to pay a fine of one million roubles (£13,430; $16,300).
Griner pleaded guilty to drug charges but has denied deliberately breaking the law.
The 31-year-old Olympic gold medallist was detained in February at an airport near Moscow when vape cartridges containing cannabis oil were found in her luggage.
Cannabis is illegal in Russia.
Griner’s defence team said they would appeal against Thursday’s verdict by the court in Khimki, near Moscow.
US President Joe Biden said in a statement that Russia was wrongfully detaining Griner and called for her to be released immediately.
It is unclear how long she will actually spend behind bars, as the US and Russia have been discussing a potential prisoner swap that could involve the basketball player, the BBC’s Russia editor Steve Rosenberg says.
Reports in US media suggest imprisoned Russian arms trafficker Viktor Bout – known as the Merchant of Death – could be transferred by Washington to the Russian authorities as part of the deal.
Russian prosecutors had earlier asked for a nine-and-a-half-year prison term for Griner.
Reading the verdict, the presiding judge in Khimki said she took into account the fact that the American had already spent a considerable time in detention.