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Russia Makes Counter Offer For Griner, United States Says No

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OPINION: This article may contain commentary which reflects the author's opinion.


Russian officials are attempting to exploit the jailing of two Americans to maximum advantage, according to a new report on Friday.

CNN reported exclusively that Moscow wanted a former colonel in Russia’s domestic spy agency convicted last year of murder in Germany to be added to the United States’ proposal to exchange Viktor Bout, a notorious arms dealer, for WNBA star Brittney Griner and prisoner Paul Wheland.

The report said that Russian government officials relayed the request to the Biden administration via an informal backchannel used by the spy agency, which is known as the FSB, that the Kremlin wants Vadim Krasikov released as well, sources told the network.

In December, Krasikov was convicted of killing Zelimkhan ‘Tornike’ Khangoshvili, a former Chechen fighter, in Berlin’s Kleiner Tiergarten in 2019. He was subsequently given life in prison.

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“The request was seen as problematic for several reasons, the sources told CNN, among them that Krasikov remains in German custody. As such, and because the request was not communicated formally but rather through the FSB backchannel, the US government did not view it as a legitimate counter to the US’ offer which was first revealed by CNN on Wednesday,” the network reported.

“But underscoring how determined the Biden administration has been to get Griner and Whelan back to the US, US officials did make quiet inquiries to the Germans about whether they might be willing to include Krasikov in the trade, a senior German government source told CNN. A US official characterized the outreach as a status check on Krasikov,” the report continued.

According to CNN’s sources, the conversations to have the murderer included in any deal to release Griner and Whelan was not elevated to the top echelons of the German government. Also, including Krasikov in any potential prisoner swap was never a serious consideration, a German source told CNN. However, the previously unreported talks also reveal that U.S. and Russian officials have engaged to some degree regarding the Biden administration proposal.

Though the request did not come via formal channels, the FSB has an extensive network, as it is a central port of the Russian government’s national security apparatus. Russian President Vladimir Putin even worked for its predecessor, the KGB.

Adrienne Watson, a spokesperson for the National Security Council, told CNN after the initial story was published 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.”

And National Security Council spokesman John Kirby echoed Watson on Friday as well, describing Russia’s request a “bad faith attempt to avoid a very serious offer” during an interview with CNN’s Jim Sciutto on “Erin Burnett OutFront.”

He added: “We urge Russia to take that offer seriously.”

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Asked by Scuitto if that means that talks with Russia on the issue are stalled, Kirby said he would not describe the situation in that manner.

“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, according to CNN.

On Wednesday Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the United States had put “a substantial proposal on the table weeks ago” for Griner and Whelan and that “our governments have communicated repeatedly and directly on that proposal.”

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

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