Ukraine War, July 29, 2022: Blinken-Lavrov telephone call on prisoner swap, other matters; Lavrov cites international law

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To see a list of previous articles, enter “Ukraine” in the Search Box on the upper right, on The Trenchant Observer web site, and you will see a list in chronological order


1) “US and Russia hold first top level call since February; Moscow has confirmed a phone conversation took place between the two top diplomats,” RT (Russia and former Soviet Union), July 29, 2022 (18:47);

2)  Mike Brest, Blinken ‘pressed’ Lavrov to accept prisoner swap proposal in conversation,” Washington Examiner, July 29, 2022 (01:29 PM);

3)  “Blinken spricht erstmals seit Kriegsbeginn mit Lawrow,” Die Welt, den 29. Juli 2022. (20:55 Uhr).


Antony Blinken and how not to negotiate a hostage release

Secretary of State Anthony Blinken has spoken in a telephone call to Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov, in a bid for a prisoner swap for Paul Whelan and Brittney Griner. Griner is a women’s basketball star currently on trial for possession of cannibis oil, for which she had a medical prescription.

Blinken has given us a lesson in how not to conduct a hostage negotiation.

In recent days he has been campaigning in the press for the prisoner swap and Griner’s release, saying the U.S. had made a substantial proposition to Russia. Then, for the last few days he has let it be known that he was planning a telephone call with Lavrov regarding the prisoner swap.

The news reports of their conversation today spoke of Blinken “pressing” Lavrov for the prisoner exchange.

Of what “pressure” could Blinken be thinking?

Blinken comes across as a supplicant to an all-powerful Russia who in this affair holds all the cards in its hands.

The gravest aspect of the telephone call is that it broke five months of diplomatic isolation of Russia following its invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022.

Blinken reportedly discussed a number of things with Lavrov on the call, including Ukraine and possible ceasefire terms.

With respect to the prisoner exchange for Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan, any hostage negotiator could have explained to Blinken that you don’t secure a release through public discussions in the press of negotiations in progress.

Blinken appears to be responding to pressures from women’s basketball groups and the LGTB community, of which Griner is openly a member.

A successful hostage negotiation is one where you learn about the negotiations after the release of the hostages.

More broadly, with president Joe Biden willing to meet with Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman and with Blinken talking to Lavrov on the telephone, diplomacy is now an open field for freelancing by any Western allies or Ukraine coalition partners who wish to conduct their own independent foreign policy.

This bodes ill for the unity of the anti-Russian coalition supporting Ukraine.

Lavrov asserts “The Russian forces in Ukraine strictly follow the norms of international law.”

The RT (Russia Today) read-out on the call included the following interesting statement:

The minister also said that continuous Western arms deliveries to Kiev would only prolong the ongoing conflict in Ukraine and lead to further human suffering. The Russian forces in Ukraine strictly follow the norms of international law, Lavrov said, adding that Russia also undertakes “systemic efforts” to help people living on territories under its control return to normal life.

The conversation came after US diplomats said they had repeatedly requested a phone call between Lavrov and Blinken to discuss the potential prisoner exchange. On Thursday, Moscow said that Lavrov would consider the request as soon as his busy schedule allowed. The Russian minister is about to take part in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization ministerial summit and hold several bilateral meetings.

The fact that Lavrov stated, “The Russian forces in Ukraine strictly follow the norms of international law,” is obviously a blatant lie.

But it is interesting in that it suggests there is pressure on Russia, from somewhere, to maintain that it is acting in accordance with international law. Over time, that pressure could conceivably result in some moderation of Russian behavior, though at the moment too much should not be made of this point.

Over the longer term, together with Ukrainian success on the battlefield, such mreferences to international law could conceivably help frame the potential terms of a ceasefire agreement.

The Trenchant Observer


See also,

Only force can stop Putin

“Ukraine War, April 5, 2022 (II): Force must be used to stop Putin,” The Trenchant Observer, April 5, 2922 .

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About the Author

James Rowles
"The Trenchant Observer" is edited and published by James Rowles (aka "The Observer"), an author and international lawyer who has taught International Law, Human Rights, and Comparative Law at major U.S. universities, including Harvard, Brandeis, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Kansas. Dr. Rowles is a former staff attorney at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) of the Organization of American States OAS), in Wasington, D.C., , where he was in charge of Brazil, Haiti, Mexico and the United States, and also worked on complaints from and reports on other countries including Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. As an international development expert, he has worked on Rule of Law, Human Rights, and Judicial Reform in a number of countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and the Russian Federation. In the private sector, Dr. Rowles has worked as an international attorney for a leading national law firm and major global companies, on joint ventures and other matters in a number of countries in Europe (including Russia and the Ukraine), throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, and in Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam, China and Japan. The Trenchant Observer blog provides an unfiltered international perspective for news and opinion on current events, in their historical context, drawing on a daily review of leading German, French, Spanish and English newspapers as well as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and other American newspapers, and on sources in other countries relevant to issues being analyzed. Dr. Rowles speaks fluent English, French, German, Portuguese and Spanish, and also knows other languages. He holds an S.J.D. or Doctor of Juridical Science in International Law from Harvard University, and a Doctor of Law (J.D.) and a Master of the Science of Law (J.S.M.=LL.M.), from Stanford University. As an undergraduate, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree, also from Stanford, where he graduated “With Great Distinction” (summa cum laude) and received the James Birdsall Weter Prize for the best Senior Honors Thesis in History. In addition to having taught as a Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School, Dr. Rowles has been a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University's Center for International Affairs (CFIA). His fellowships include a Stanford Postdoctoral Fellowship in Law and Development, the Rómulo Gallegos Fellowship in International Human Rights awarded by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and a Harvard MacArthur Fellowship in International Peace and Security. Beyond his articles in The Trenchant Observer, he is the author of two books and numerous scholarly articles on subjects of international and comparative law. Currently he is working on a manuscript drawing on some the best articles that have appeared in the blog.