A former U.S. Marine imprisoned in Russia for almost four years was not swapped with a U.S. prisoner because Russia views their offenses differently, according to a New York Post report.
Women’s basketball player Brittney Griner was swapped by Russia for arms dealer Viktor Bout, who was in U.S. custody. The Russians agreed to swap a prisoner they consider a criminal with a U.S.-held prisoner convicted of criminal charges. In the eyes of the Russians, they swapped a criminal for a criminal.
Ex-Marine Paul Whelan remains in his Russian prison cell because that country considers him a spy. According to a report by The New York Times, Russia demanded the return of one of their imprisoned spies. A spy for a spy, if you will.
The spy they wanted in from the cold is Vadim Krasikov, a reported assassin who murdered a Chechen fighter in a Berlin park during daylight in a brazen 2019 killing. German authorities claimed Krasikov committed the execution on orders from Russia’s intelligence services. He was convicted and sentenced to life in prison in Germany.
In order to swap Krasikov for Whelan, White House officials needed to persuade Germany to release him. German authorities turned down President Biden’s request based on the nature of Krasikov’s crime. U.S. officials reportedly tried to broker a complicated three-way deal that could send a high-value person to Germany in exchange for swapping Krasikov for Whelan. That deal also fell flat, according to the Times report.
Frustrated by their inability to swap Krasikov for Whelan, American officials reportedly broke with years of tradition by publicly announcing they had made a “substantial” offer to the Russians. The administration explained to reporters that Biden would trade Bout for Griner and Whelan. They hoped public pressure would shake the Russians loose from their insistence for Krasikov and make a deal.
Public opinion has not seemed to matter to the Russians during their 10-month invasion of Ukraine, so it is hard to understand why White House officials thought it would work in this case. And, it did not work.
After many months, the Russians reportedly broached the idea of a one-for-one swap of Griner for Bout, saying they would consider that a fair trade. Some officials reportedly wondered if Russia delayed until after Election Day to deny Biden a public relations boost from announcing Griner’s return.