CNN Exclusive: Russian officers requested including convicted assassin to Griner/Whelan prisoner swap

The Russians communicated the request to the US earlier this month by way of a casual backchannel utilized by the spy company, often called the FSB, that they wished Vadim Krasikov launched, the sources mentioned. Krasikov was convicted in December of murdering a former Chechen fighter, Zelimkhan “Tornike” Khangoshvili, in Berlin’s Kleiner Tiergarten in 2019 and sentenced to life in jail.

The request was seen as problematic for a number of causes, the sources instructed CNN, amongst them that Krasikov stays in German custody. As such, and since the request was not communicated formally however relatively by way of the FSB backchannel, the US authorities didn’t view it as a official counter to the US’ provide which was first revealed by CNN on Wednesday.

However underscoring how decided the Biden administration has been to get Griner and Whelan again to the US, US officers did make quiet inquiries to the Germans about whether or not they is perhaps keen to incorporate Krasikov within the commerce, a senior German authorities supply instructed CNN. A US official characterised the outreach as a standing verify on Krasikov.

The conversations have been by no means elevated to the highest ranges of the German authorities and together with Krasikov in a possible commerce has not been critically thought of, the German supply mentioned. However the beforehand unreported discussions reveal that Russian officers have not less than considerably engaged with the US’ proposal.

Whereas the request was not made by way of formal channels, the FSB has an expansive remit and is a core a part of the Russian safety equipment. Russian President Vladimir Putin famously labored for its highly effective predecessor, the KGB.

Adrienne Watson, a spokesperson for the Nationwide Safety Council, instructed CNN after this story was revealed that “holding two wrongfully detained Americans hostage for the release of a Russian assassin in a third country’s custody is not a serious counter-offer. It is a bad faith attempt to avoid the deal on the table that Russia should take.”

Nationwide Safety Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby echoed Watson on Friday, calling Russia’s request a “bad faith attempt to avoid a very serious offer” throughout an interview with CNN’s Jim Sciutto on “Erin Burnett OutFront.” He added: “We urge Russia to take that offer seriously.”

Pressed by Sciutto on whether or not this growth indicators negotiations are stalled, Kirby mentioned he wouldn’t describe the present state of affairs that means.

“It’s just that they haven’t been willing to faithfully consider or even seriously consider the offer that we put forward. I would not say stalled. … We very much want to see Brittney and Paul come home to their families where they belong. They’re wrongfully detained there. And we’re just going to keep at that work,” Kirby mentioned.

Requested for remark, a State Division official instructed CNN that “In order to preserve the best opportunity for a successful outcome, we’re not going to comment publicly on any speculation.” Secretary of State Antony Blinken mentioned on Wednesday that the US had put “a substantial proposal on the table weeks ago” to facilitate Griner and Whelan’s launch. He added that “our governments have communicated repeatedly and directly on that proposal.”

Blinken spoke with Russian Overseas Minister Sergei Lavrov on Friday in regards to the proposed swap. They’d a “frank and direct conversation” Blinken mentioned.

“I pressed the Kremlin to accept the substantial proposal that we put forth on the release of Paul Whelan and Brittney Griner,” Blinken added.

The Russian Overseas Ministry mentioned in a press release that Lavrov “strongly suggested” to Blinken that america ought to return to a mode of “quiet diplomacy” concerning a doable prisoner trade “without speculative information stuffing.”

It is unclear if Krasikov was mentioned on the decision.

A number of sources instructed CNN that even when it’s not Krasikov, the Russians will probably demand two prisoners be launched in trade for Griner and Whelan. Russian authorities officers have indicated publicly in current weeks that they wish to see the discharge of Bout and Roman Seleznev, a convicted hacker at the moment serving a 27-year sentence within 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 Overseas Minister Sergey Ryabkov instructed reporters earlier this month.

However US officers consider Russia is simply attempting to purchase time by making unserious affords till Griner’s trial is over.

Griner is on trial for allegedly getting into Russia in February with hashish oil in her baggage, one thing she mentioned she makes use of for ache aid and that she packed in her baggage unintentionally. Whelan was convicted on espionage prices in 2020 and sentenced to 16 years in jail. The State Division has declared each of them wrongfully detained.

CNN’s Jennifer Hansler and Sam Fossum contributed reporting.