A senior Russian officials says Moscow is not in talks with Washington over a possible prisoner swap involving Paul Whelan, a former U.S. Marine jailed in Russia for spying.
The 50-year-old Whelan was sentenced by a court in Moscow in May 2020 to 16 years in prison for espionage which he, his supporters, and the U.S. government have condemned as a "mockery of justice.”
Some analysts believe Moscow is looking to use the American prisoners in a swap for Russians being held in the United States and that the subject may come up at a summit next month between U.S. President Joe Biden and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin.
"Such discussions are not being conducted, and we do not intend to conduct them," the RIA Novosti news agency quoted Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov as saying on May 28.
Reports have surfaced several times of a possible swap involving Whelan and two Russians -- arms dealer Viktor Bout and drug smuggler Konstantin Yaroshenko -- who are serving lengthy sentences in U.S. prisons.
The United States has demanded Whelan's immediate release, calling his treatment and conviction "appalling."
Whelan, who has rejected the espionage charges and insists he had come to Russia to attend a wedding, says he was framed when he took a memory stick from an acquaintance thinking it contained holiday photos. Russia says it contained classified information.
He is serving his sentence at Correctional Colony No. 17 in the region of Mordovia, some 350 kilometers east of Moscow, a region historically known as the location of some of Russia's toughest prisons, including Soviet-era labor camps for political prisoners.
Another former U.S. Marine, Trevor Reed, has also been mentioned as a possible prisoner in Russia who could be part of a swap. Reed was sentenced to nine years in prison in Russia in July 2020 for assaulting police, a charge he has rejected.
Earlier this week, Reed's family said their son had tested positive for COVID-19 after Russian prison officials denied a U.S. Embassy request to vaccinate him.