Russia sought to swap ex-US Marine for ‘assassin’ held in Germany
US efforts to negotiate the freedom of a former Marine held in Russia as part of the swap involving basketball star Brittney Griner were thwarted by Moscow’s demand for the release of a convicted murderer held in Germany, according to a top US official and media reports.
The swap of Griner for convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout raised questions as to why the US side had failed to secure the simultaneous release of Paul Whelan, a former Marine accused by Moscow of spying — a charge Washington flatly rejects.
White House national security spokesman John Kirby was asked Sunday about reports negotiations stumbled over a Russian demand for the release of Vadim Krasikov, a former colonel in Russia’s domestic spy organization serving a life sentence for murder in Germany.
Kirby acknowledged on ABC’s “This Week” that “there was a claim that they wanted a man named Mr Krasikov, that the Germans have held in custody.”
“That just wasn’t considered a serious offer,” said Kirby, who characterized Krasikov as “an assassin.”
Kirby had told CNN in late July that including Krasikov in any deal was “a bad-faith attempt (by Moscow) to avoid a very serious offer” from the US side.
On Friday, White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre declined to comment on the Krasikov matter.
Krasikov is serving a life sentence in Germany for murdering a Chechen fighter in a park in Berlin in 2019, a killing which German authorities say was ordered by Russian intelligence services.
Some US diplomats believe the demand for Krasikov’s release originated with President Vladimir Putin, who was wary of providing a political boost to President Joe Biden at a time of fierce hostility over Ukraine, The New York Times reported.
Roger Carstens, special US presidential envoy for hostage affairs, told CNN he had spoken to Whelan on Friday, the day after the Griner-Bout swap. Whelan expressed his “frustration,” Carstens said.
“Here’s what I told him. I said: “Paul, you have the commitment of this president. The president’s focused. The secretary of state’s focused. I’m certainly focused, and we’re going to bring you home… Keep the faith. We’re coming to get you.”
Putin himself said Friday, during a visit to Kyrgyzstan, that further prisoner swaps were “possible.”