New details are emerging about the high-stakes negotiations that brought the release of basketball star Brittney Griner but left American Paul Whelan in prison – including Russia’s demand to liberate an assassin serving a life sentence for carrying out a daylight slaying in Berlin.
The Biden administration had been trying to negotiate for the release of both Griner and Whalen for months. But as the U.S. tried to secure their release and even dangled convicted ‘merchant of death’ arms trafficker Viktor Bout, Moscow added its own demand.
Russia wanted the release Vadim Krasikov, a former FSB colonel who was convicted of gunning down a Georgia-born Chechen separatist in broad daylight in a central Berlin park, as the price for freeing both Americans, the New York Times reported.
It was a bold ask due to the stark nature of the crime. Krasikov is convicted of riding up to his victim on a bicycle and executing him in Berlin’s Kleine Tiergarten park. A German court called it a ‘state-contracted killing.’
Former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan remains in a Russian prison. It was revealed that Moscow sought to release a convicted hit man as part of any exchange involving Whelan, who vigorously denies spying charges against him
By contrast, Griner was sentenced for possessing a small amount of cannabis oil inside vape cartridges at a Moscow airport, and the government and Whelan deny the spying charges brought against him.
U.S. negotiators didn’t reject the idea outright, and tried of offer a three-way trade, according to the Times.
But authorities in Berlin weren’t interested in freeing someone who had blatantly violated the law and ignored its sovereignty,
The lawyer for Russian Alexander Vinik, who was extradited to California and is accused of running a illicit cryptocurrency scheme that laundered $4 billion, wants him to be part of trade talks
Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed an openness to future negotiations. He continues to oversee a brutal war in Ukraine
In this image made from video provided by Russian Federal Security Service, WNBA star and two-time Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner smiles on the flight to Abu Dhabi after her release was negotiated
The revelation came on a day when Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed openness to further negotiations, after a deal that some Republicans have already attacked as unfavorable.
‘We aren’t refusing to continue this work in the future,’ Putin said after Bout arrived home to a hero’s welcome in Moscow and Griner touched down in San Antonio, Texas, in the early hours of Friday morning.
Putin said ‘everything is on the table’ and pointed to ‘compromises’ found in the past – while the White House faces criticism for leaving Marine veteran Paul Whelan languishing in a Russian jail while the Olympic medallist was brought home.
A senior White House official told CNN on Friday they believe Moscow will keep negotiating a deal over Whelan because there are ‘things they want in this world.
With some signs that the store is open on future negotiations, it emerged Friday that the lawyer representing Alexander Vinik, who was extradited from Greece and accused of running an illicit cryptocurrency money laundering operation, pushed for his client to be part of talks.
Federal prosecutors accuse Vinik of using the BTC-e crypto exchange to launder $4 billion worth of criminal proceeds.
The indictment alleges that cybercriminals worldwide took part in laundering proceeds from ransomware scams, hacking, identity theft, corrupt public officials, and narcotics distribution rings, and fraud.
The exchange got more than $4 billion in bitcoin. He was accused in the August indictment of operating an unlicensed money services business, conspiracy to commit money laundering, plus 17 counts of money laundering and two counts of engaging in unlawful monetary transactions.
The U.S. is known to want the release of Pennsylvania man Marc Fogel. He is serving a 14 year prison sentence after getting caught at the Moscow airport with less than one ounce of medical marijuana used for a spine condition.
The State Department sought his release on humanitarian grounds, and faces pressure form lawmakers to classify him formally as being ‘wrongfully detained.’
The White House avoided comment on his case when asked about it Thursday.
Pressed to confirm details of Russia’s push for the release of the convicted assassin Krasikov, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre responded: ‘I’m just not going to get into specifics on any of the negotiations.’
Asked if the U.S. would consider working with a third country to try to meet one of Moscow’s demands, she said: ‘I get your question and I understand. I just cannot get into what we will or will not do … We want to make sure that we get them home safely. Negotiating from here … certainly would not be prudent.’