TEMPO.CO, Jakarta – The US has denied having anything to do with former US Ambassador to the UN Bill Richardson’s visit to Russia. Sources told Reuters that Richardson, who has personally worked to secure the release of American prisoners abroad, held a meeting in Russia this week.
The United States Department of State has indicated that there should be full coordination with any outside efforts to help secure the release of Americans detained abroad. The ministry views such efforts as a risk of complicating them.
“In this regard, we believe that any effort outside the officially designated path has the potential to complicate what is already an incredibly complex challenge that we are dealing with,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said at a news conference.
Price said the US government has contacted the Richardson Center. However, he stressed that Richardson’s visit was not coordinated with the US Embassy in Moscow.
Richardson, who is also a former governor of New Mexico, is on the way back, sources familiar with the matter said. The sources did not elaborate on who he met or how the meeting took place.
Richardson has previously been involved in the release of several high-profile prisoners, including American Danny Fenster, who was released from a Myanmar prison last year. The Kremlin has not commented on Richardson’s visit to Russia.
“I have nothing (information) to tell you about this,” said a spokesman for Russia’s presidential office.
A spokeswoman for Richardson said she could not comment on Richardson’s trip to Russia at this time. The Richardson Center also said it could not comment.
Russia currently features WNBA star Brittney Griner and former US Marine Paul Whelan. Griner is a two-time Olympic gold medalist and all-star in the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA). Griner was sentenced to nine years in prison by Russian authorities on August 4, 2022 for drug abuse.
Griner was arrested in February 2022 at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport with a vape cartridge filled with hashish oil in his luggage. Marijuana is illegal in Russia. The basketball player claims marijuana has been prescribed as a medical drug in the United States to relieve pain from chronic injuries.
Whelan was sentenced to 16 years in prison in 2020 after pleading guilty to espionage charges. He denied the allegations.
The US said in August that it had a “significant offer” on the table to secure the release of the two nationals. Russia’s foreign ministry said last month it was engaged in “quiet diplomacy” with the United States over a possible prisoner exchange that could include Griner and Whelan.
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