MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia called on the United States on Monday to free Russian pilot Konstantin Yaroshenko and proposed a prisoner swap with Washington to win the release of any American national held in Russia, Interfax news agency reported.
The comments may fuel speculation that Moscow is seeking a prisoner exchange involving Paul Whelan, a former U.S. Marine arrested and held in Russia on spying charges that he denies and that he has likened to a political kidnap.
Yaroshenko is a pilot serving 20 years in the United States for conspiracy to smuggle cocaine into the country. He was arrested by U.S. special forces in Liberia in 2010.
“Free Yaroshenko, swap him for an American or Americans who are serving their sentence here,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov was quoted as saying by Interfax.
In later comments on the proposal carried by RIA news agency, Ryabkov said it would not be right to discuss exchanging Whelan given that he had yet to face trial in Russia. He said he had other U.S. nationals in mind as possible swaps.
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Update: Kremlin Big Floats U.S.-Russian Prisoner Swap as Paul Whelan Languishes in Moscow Jail (Daily Beast)
WNU Editor: I do not see this happening anytime soon.