(CNN) — Russian government officials have requested that a former colonel in the country’s domestic spy agency who was convicted of murder in Germany last year be added to the proposed US swap of a notorious arms dealer for Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan, they told The Associated Press. Multiple CNN sources familiar with the discussions.
The Russians communicated the request to the US earlier this month through an informal channel used by the espionage agency, the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation, known as the FSB, that they wanted Vadim Krasikov to be released in addition to Viktor Bout, the sources said. Krasikov was convicted in December of murdering a former Chechen fighter, Zelimkhan “Tornike” Khangoshvili, in Berlin’s Kleiner Tiergarten in 2019 and was sentenced to life in prison.
The request was considered problematic for a number of reasons, the sources told CNN, including that Krasikov remains in German custody. As such, and because the request was not formally communicated except through the FSB support channel, the US government did not consider it a legitimate counterpart to the US offer that was first revealed by CNN on Wednesday.
However, to underscore the Biden administration’s determination to get Griner and Whelan back to the United States, US officials quietly inquired with the Germans about whether they would be willing to include Krasikov in the exchange, a US government source said. Germany to CNN. A US official described the contact as a status check on Krasikov.
The talks never rose to the highest levels of the German government and Krasikov’s inclusion in a potential exchange has not been seriously considered, the German source said. However, the previously unreported talks reveal that Russian officials have engaged, at least to some extent, with the US proposal.
While the request was not made through formal channels, the FSB has a broad mandate and is a critical part of the Russian security apparatus. Russian President Vladimir Putin is famous for having worked for his powerful predecessor, the KGB.
A State Department official told CNN that “to preserve the best chance of a successful outcome, we will not comment publicly on any speculation.” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday that the United States had put “a substantial proposal on the table weeks ago” to facilitate the release of Griner and Whelan, adding that “our governments have communicated repeatedly and directly about that proposal.”
Blinken spoke Friday with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov about the exchange proposal. They had a “frank and direct conversation,” Blinken said.
“I pressed the Kremlin to accept the substantial proposal that we put forward on the release of Paul Whelan and Brittney Griner,” Blinken added.
Multiple sources told CNN that even if it isn’t Krasikov, the Russians will likely demand the release of two prisoners in exchange for Griner and Whelan. Russian government officials have publicly indicated in recent weeks that they want to see the release of Bout and Roman Seleznev, a convicted hacker currently serving a 27-year sentence in the United States.
“I am not sure that any additional activity, especially in the public sphere, will help a correct and balanced compromise and find a basis to alleviate the fate of many of our compatriots, such as Viktor Bout, who has health problems, [o] like Seleznev, and many others,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov told reporters earlier this month.
But US officials believe Russia is just trying to buy time by making shallow offers until the Griner trial is over.
Griner is on trial for allegedly entering Russia in February with cannabis oil in her luggage, something she said she uses for pain relief, which she inadvertently smuggled into her bags. Whelan was convicted of espionage charges in 2020 and sentenced to 16 years in prison. The State Department has stated that both were wrongfully detained.
— CNN’s Jennifer Hansler contributed to this report.