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Putin says he is open to prisoner swap between Russia and US

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Vladimir Putin and Joe Biden will hold talks in Geneva on Wednesday for the first time since the U.S. president took office in January - NBC News via AP/NBC News via AP

Vladimir Putin and Joe Biden will hold talks in Geneva on Wednesday for the first time since the U.S. president took office in January – NBC News via AP/NBC News via AP

Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, says Moscow is open to a prisoner swap with the United States after Joe Biden said Washington could extradite convicted hackers to Russia.

Mr Putin’s remarks on Monday came two days before a much-anticipated summit between the two leaders in Geneva.

President Putin in an interview with NBC released on Monday said that a prisoner exchange between the two countries was possible.

“We’re ready to discuss this issue,” he said. “These are humanitarian issues. Why not talk about it?”

President Biden mentioned at a news conference on Sunday that he was “open” to extraditing Russian hackers convicted in the US if they were “in fact committing those crimes”.

Moscow has two US citizens behind bars.

Paul Whelan, a former security consultant, was convicted of spying and sentenced to 16 years in prison last year. A month later, Trevor Reed, a student, was sentenced to nine years for assaulting a Moscow police officer while drunk.

The two Americans are largely seen as pawns for the Kremlin to trade for Russians in US custody, such as convicted arms dealer Viktor Bout, also known as the “Merchant of Death” thanks to a best-selling book about him.

The US authorities have insisted that Bout is a dangerous criminal who should stay in prison to serve his 25-year sentence.

Relations between the US and Russia have dipped to a post-Cold War low since Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula and threw its weight behind separatists in eastern Ukraine in 2014.

Apart from a possible prisoner exchange and a boost to the both countries’ diplomatic missions, there is not much ground that Mr Biden and Mr Putin are expected to agree on.

The US president is likely to press Mr Putin on January’s arrest and incarceration of Alexei Navalny, Russia’s opposition leader.

“He will not be treated any worse than anybody else,” Mr Putin was quoted as saying to NBC.

Asked about the ongoing onslaught on Mr Navalny’s regional network, he added: “You present it as dissent and intolerance to dissent in Russia. We view it completely differently.”

Mr Putin also used the interview to dismiss accusations that Russia was behind cyberattacks against the United States.

Asked if Russia was waging a “cyber war” against the United States, he said: “Where is proof? It’s becoming farcical.”

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