Russia Reportedly Wants To Add Convicted Murderer In Prisoner Exchange Deal For Brittney Griner

This ‘is not a serious counter-offer,’ U.S. officials say.

The Russian government requested that Vadim Krasikov, a former officer in the country’s spy agency, be added to the United State’s proposed prisoner exchange deal for WNBA star Brittney Griner and former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, CNN reports.

Krasikov is currently serving a life sentence in Germany, where he was convicted in December for what German prosecutors said was a 2019 political murder in broad daylight of former Chechen fighter Zelimkhan Khangoshvili in Berlin, The Washington Post reported.

On Wednesday (July 27), the Biden administration, which has been under pressure to secure Griner’s freedom, offered to release Viktor Bout, a convicted Russian arms trafficker, in the prisoner swap.

But adding Krasikov to the deal is problematic. For one reason, Krasikov is in Germany’s custody, CNN noted. Also, Russia’s request for his release was communicated through informal backchannels. Consequently, the Biden administration didn’t view it as a legitimate counter offer to its proposal to release Bout. Nevertheless, U.S. officials quietly asked Germany about the possibility of including Krasikov in a prisoner swap, CNN reported.

After CNN published its story, U.S. officials told the station that Russia’s reported counter offer appears to be “a bad faith effort” in negotiations.

National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said 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."

Throughout Griner’s detention, the United States has classified her as “wrongfully detained” by its former Cold War enemy.

Griner, 31, is on trial in Russia on drug charges. Authorities arrested her in February at Sheremetyevo Airport near Moscow for allegedly carrying hashish oil vape cartridges in her luggage, which can carry a 10-year prison sentence. 

She pleaded guilty to drug charges on July 7. But she has said the vape cartridges were in her luggage mistakenly, and she didn’t intend to commit a crime.

Whelan has been detained in Russia since 2018 on alleged espionage charges, which he denies. He was not included in the April 2022 prisoner swap that freed fellow American Trevor Reed.

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National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby told CNN that negotiations for the release of Griner and Whelan are not stalled.

"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 said.

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