CNN Exclusive: Russian Officials Requested Addition of Convicted Killer to Griner/Whelan Prisoner Swap

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The Russians communicated the request to the US earlier this month through an informal back channel used by the spy agency known as the FSB that they wanted to release Vadim Krasikov, the sources said. Krasikov was convicted in December of the 2019 murder of a former Chechen fighter, Zelimkhan “Tornike” Khangoshvili, in Berlin’s Kleiner Tiergarten and sentenced to life in prison.

The request was deemed problematic for several reasons, the sources told CNN, including that Krasikov remains in German custody. As such, and because the request was not communicated formally, but rather through the FSB back channel, the US government did not view it as a legitimate counterweight to the US offer first revealed by CNN on Wednesday.

But to underline how determined the Biden administration has been to get Griner and Whelan back to the U.S., U.S. officials quietly checked with Germans whether they might be willing to engage Krasikov in the trade, a senior German government source told CNN. . A US official characterized the outreach as a status check on Krasikov.

The talks were never elevated to the highest levels of the German government and the inclusion of Krasikov in a possible trade has not been seriously considered, the German source said. But the previously unreported discussions show that Russian officials are at least somewhat involved in the US proposal.

Although the request was not made through formal channels, the FSB has an extensive remit and is a core part of Russia’s security apparatus. Russian President Vladimir Putin famously worked for his powerful predecessor, the KGB.

Adrienne Watson, a spokesman for the National Security Council, told CNN after this story was published that “holding two wrongfully held Americans hostage for the release of a Russian murderer in the custody of a third country is not a serious counter-offer. It is a bad offer.” faith attempt to avoid the deal on the table that Russia should take.”

John Kirby, coordinator of the National Security Council for Strategic Communications, echoed Watson on Friday, calling Russia’s request a “bad faith effort to avoid a very serious offer” during an interview with CNN’s Jim Sciutto about “Erin Burnett OutFront”. He added: “We urge Russia to take that offer seriously.”

Pressured by Sciutto as to whether this development indicates that negotiations are stalling, Kirby said he would not describe the current situation that way.

“It’s just that they haven’t been willing to faithfully consider or even seriously consider the offer we’ve made. They are wrongly held there. And we’re just going to continue that work,” Kirby said.

Asked for comment, a State Department official told CNN, “In order to maintain the best chance of a successful outcome, we are not going to comment publicly on speculation.” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Wednesday that the US “weeks ago put a substantial proposal on the table” to facilitate the release of Griner and Whelan. He added that “our governments have communicated repeatedly and directly about that proposal.”

Blinken spoke to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Friday about the proposed exchange. They had a “candid and direct conversation,” Blinken said.

“I have urged the Kremlin to accept the substantial proposal we have made regarding the release of Paul Whelan and Brittney Griner,” Blinken added.

Russia’s foreign ministry said in a statement that Lavrov Blinken “strongly suggested” that the United States return to a mode of “silent diplomacy” regarding a possible prisoner exchange “without speculative information filling”.

It is unclear whether Krasikov was discussed during the conversation.

Multiple sources told CNN that even if it’s not Krasikov, the Russians will likely demand the release of two inmates in exchange for Griner and Whelan. Russian government officials have publicly stated in recent weeks that they want to see the release of Bout and Roman Seleznev, a convicted hacker currently serving a 27-year prison term in the US.

“I am not sure that any additional activity, especially in the public sphere, will contribute to a correct, balanced compromise and find a basis to alleviate the plight of many of our compatriots, such as Viktor Bout, who has health problems, [or] like Seleznev and many others,” Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told reporters earlier this month.

But US officials believe Russia is simply trying to buy time by making unserious offers until Griner’s trial is over.

Griner is on trial for allegedly entering Russia in February with cannabis oil in her luggage, something she said she used for pain relief and inadvertently put in her suitcases. Whelan was convicted of espionage in 2020 and sentenced to 16 years in prison. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has stated that they were both wrongly detained.

CNN’s Jennifer Hansler and Sam Fossum contributed coverage.



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