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Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Stop ‘hunting’ Russians, Moscow envoy tells US

Russia considers the return of its jailed citizens a top priority, Anatoly Antonov has said

The US should put an end to its long-standing practice of going after Russian nationals in third countries, Anatoly Antonov, Moscow’s ambassador to Washington has said, adding that Russia has always done its best to secure the release of its citizens in American custody.

In a statement on Telegram on Wednesday, the envoy pushed back against a Wall Street Journal report claiming that Russia has shown “scant interest” in negotiating prisoner swaps with the US to free dozens of its detained citizens.

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Antonov emphasized that “we stand for the speedy return of all Russian citizens held in US prisons,” describing this goal as “an absolute priority” and calling speculation in this regard unacceptable.

“Russia has always stood up against Washington’s ‘hunting’ for Russians in third countries and strongly demands to put an end to this practice. However, the US administration continues to live in its own world, built on its own rules, ignoring interests of other states,” he said, adding that Moscow would never agree to such a policy.

The fate of every Russian languishing in US jails is at the heart of our work,” the ambassador noted, adding that the embassy does its best to monitor their health and detention conditions as well as to secure their release.

However, Antonov stated that the issue of prisoner exchanges is handled by “authorized bodies,” that have showed that they are up to the task by negotiating freedom for Viktor Bout and Konstantin Yaroshenko. Bout, a Russian businessman arrested by the US in Thailand in 2008 and convicted by an American court on arms trafficking charges, was exchanged last December for basketball star Brittney Griner, arrested in Moscow for transporting cannabis oil.’

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Yaroshenko, who was accused of drug smuggling, was swapped for US marine Trevor Reed who was found guilty of assaulting police officers in Russia last year.

“We urge the US politicians and media outlets to let the competent bodies of two countries work quietly. Stop playing on the fate of people and leave the search for necessary ‘solutions’ to professionals,” Antonov said.

The diplomat’s remarks come after several media outlets reported that US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke by phone with Paul Whelan, a former US marine who was sentenced by a Russian court to 16 years in prison on espionage charges in 2020. According to CNN, Blinken assured Whelan – who Washington considers “wrongfully detained” – that the US was doing everything it could to bring him home.