The Russians communicated the request to the United States earlier this month through an informal channel used by the spy agency, known as the FSB, that they wanted Vadim Krasikov released, the sources said . Krasikov was convicted in December of the murder of a former Chechen fighter, Zelimkhan “Tornike” Khangoshvili, in Berlin’s Kleiner Tiergarten in 2019 and sentenced to life in prison.
The request was considered problematic for several reasons, the sources told CNN, including that Krasikov remains in German custody. As such, and because the request was not formally communicated but through the back channel of the FSB, the US government did not see it as a legitimate counter to the US offer which was revealed by first reported by CNN on Wednesday.
But underscoring how determined the Biden administration has been to bring Griner and Whelan back to the U.S., U.S. officials asked the Germans discreet questions about whether they would be willing to include Krasikov in the trade, a U.S. source told CNN. german government A US official characterized the disclosure as a state check on Krasikov.
The talks were never elevated to the highest levels of the German government and the inclusion of Krasikov in a possible trade has not been seriously considered, the German source said. But the previously unreported discussions reveal that Russian officials have at least somewhat compromised the US proposal.
Although the request was not made through formal channels, the FSB has an expansive mission and is a core part of the Russian security apparatus. Russian President Vladimir Putin worked for his powerful predecessor, the KGB.
Adrienne Watson, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council, told CNN after this story was published that “holding two Americans wrongfully detained for the release of a Russian assassin into the custody of a third party country is not a serious counteroffer. It is a bad offer. a good-faith attempt to avoid the deal on the table that Russia should take.”
National Security Council strategic communications coordinator John Kirby echoed Watson on Friday, calling Russia’s request a “bad faith attempt to avoid a very serious offer” during an interview with Jim Sciutto CNN’s “Erin Burnett OutFront.” He added: “We urge Russia to take this offer seriously.”
Pressed by Sciutto on whether this development indicates that negotiations are stalled, Kirby said he would not describe the current situation that way.
“It’s just that they haven’t been willing to faithfully consider or even seriously consider the offer that we’ve put forward. I wouldn’t say they’ve stalled… We really want to see Brittney and Paul go home to their families where they belong . . . They’re wrongfully detained there. And we’re just going to continue to do that work,” Kirby said.
When asked for comment, a State Department official told CNN that “In order to preserve the best opportunity for a successful outcome, we will not comment publicly on any speculation.” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Wednesday that the US had put “a substantial proposal on the table weeks ago” to facilitate the release of Griner and Whelan. He added that “our governments have communicated repeatedly and directly about this proposal.”
“I put pressure on the Kremlin to accept the substantial proposal we put forward for the release of Paul Whelan and Brittney Griner,” Blinken added.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement that Lavrov “strongly suggested” to Blinken that the United States should return to a mode of “quiet diplomacy” regarding a possible prisoner exchange “without padding of speculative information”.
It is unclear whether Krasikov was discussed in the call.
Multiple sources told CNN that even if it is not 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 US.
“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 like Viktor Bout, who has health problems.” [or] like Seleznev and many others,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov told reporters earlier this month.
But U.S. officials believe Russia is just trying to buy time by making frivolous offers until Griner’s trial is over.
Griner is on trial for allegedly entering Russia in February with cannabis oil in her luggage, which she said she uses for pain relief and accidentally packed in her bags. Whelan was convicted on espionage charges in 2020 and sentenced to 16 years in prison. The State Department has declared them both wrongfully detained.
CNN’s Jennifer Hansler and Sam Fossum contributed to the report.