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Russia Wants to Add Convicted Murderer to the United States’ Proposed Prison Swap Deal in Exchange for Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan

Russian government officials have made an interesting request. They want a former colonel from the country’s domestic spy agency to be added to the US’ proposed exchange of a notorious arms dealer for Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan.

CNN reported that the former colonel was convicted of murder in Germany last year.

Russian government officials communicated their request to the US at the beginning of July, which was sent through the informal backchannel FSB, which is used by the spy agency. They wanted Vadim Krasikov released in addition to Viktor Bout, sources close to the situation said.

Krasikov was convicted in December for the murder of a former Chechen fighter, Zelimkhan “Tornike” Khangoshvili, in Berlin’s Kleiner Tiergarten in 2019. He was sentenced to life in prison.

The request was seen as problematic for a list of reasons, the sources told CNN exclusively. For one, Krasikov remains in German custody because the request was not communicated formally but through the backchannel. The US government did not view the request as a legitimate counter to its offer, which was first revealed by the outlet on Wednesday.

But the Biden administration has been determined to get both Griner and Whelan back home. US officials made quiet inquiries to the Germans to see if they may be up for the offer to include Krasikov in the trade, a senior German government source told CNN.

A US official called the communication to Germany a status check on Krasikov.

The German source said that the conversations never reached the top levels of the German government, and the proposal of the potential trade has not been seriously considered.

However, the unreported discussions show that Russian officials have at least somewhat engaged with the US on its proposal.

Multiple sources said that even if it is not Krasikov, Russian officials will likely demand two prisoners be released in exchange for Griner and Whelan. Russian government officials have previously indicated that they want to see the release of Bout and Roman Seleznev, a convicted hacker currently serving a 27-year sentence in the US.

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

US officials believe Russia is trying to stall 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, which she said she uses for pain relief and that she packed in her bags unintentionally.

Whelan was convicted on espionage charges in 2020 and was sentenced to 16 years in prison. The State Department has declared both of them wrongfully detained.

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