WASHINGTON — Month after month, as American diplomats pushed for the release of Brittney Griner Paul Whelan and Paul Whelan Russian Prisons got the same, infuriating reply: If you want both prisoners then we want Vadim Krasikov to be part of the deal.
Assassin Mr. Krasikov murdered a Chechen fighter in A park in Berlin in broad daylight in 2019, a brazen killing that the German authorities say was committed at the behest of Russia’s intelligence services. Convicted and sentenced for life in Prison in Germany, Mr. Krasikov wasn’t in U.S. custody will be traded to Russia
The Americans thought it was a very unlikely request for a swap which would include Ms. GrinerW.N.B.A. member – Star, and Mr. Whelan (a former U.S Marine), were detained on what officials from the Biden administration considered to be trumped up charges. American officials tried to get their German counterparts to agree, and they were not surprised that Berlin refused to release the cold killer. In an effort to be creative, the Americans explored a three-way deal that would provide something for the Germans. in Return, but that didn’t go anywhere either.
Privately, some of the administration’s diplomats concluded that the insistence on freeing Mr. Krasikov was a stalling tactic by President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, who they believed was determined not to deliver any kind of political victory to President Biden before the midterm elections in Last month, the United States. Others believed the Russians were serious and saw it as a face-saving way for Moscow’s security services to give up Mr. Whelan, whom they convicted of espionage despite flat denials from Washington that he was a spy.
In any case, Mr. Biden agreed to a swap which freed Ms. Griner But not Mr. Whelan was a story of intrigue and feints, carried out through secret negotiations. All this took place against the backdrop of a bloody war. in Which American-armed Ukrainians were fighting? Russian invaders. According to U.S. officials, at the end of it all in Negotiators who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss delicate diplomacy left the president with the uncomfortable choice of liberating one American and leaving the other behind.
Ms. Griner Here in The United States landing in the United States on Friday morning in San Antonio, where she’ll receive her medical evaluations at Brooke Army Medical Center. Her family will be reunited, which is a relief to Mr. Biden. Mr. Whelan continues in a dismal Russian His long-term fate is unknown as he languishes in prison while his family waits, frustrated, and the president vows to make every effort to bring him home.
Putin spoke in Moscow Friday to say that Russia is continuing to communicate and cooperate with American officials. “everything is possible” Concerning further prisoner swaps. American officials also sent a similar message, promising to continue discussions in The hope is to have Mr. Whelan back home as soon as possible.
Both of the imprisoned Americans had different cases, but eventually they were linked. Ms. Griner, detained on minor drug charges a week before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a former Soviet republic, was seen as a hostage in In the middle of the West-West conflict. Former U.S. Marine, Mr. Whelan was in Since 2018, in prison on espionage accusations long before the war in Ukraine.
Last spring was the first time that the outline of an agreement had been discussed. In an interrogation with intelligence agencies, Russians indicated that they would trade Ms. Griner Viktor Bout, a notorious entrepreneur Russian arms dealer arrested in Thailand in 2008 and serving a sentence of 25 years in American prison They were unwilling to accept Mr. Whelan. in Package deal
Mr. Due to his ties with the security services, Bout was a key figure for the Russians. Although he isn’t known to be close with Mr. Putin, U.S. officials stated that Mr. Bout has connections in The Russian Power structures Russia had made Mr. Bout for the past 14 years. Freeing him would allow Putin to brag about finally bringing a patriotic home.
The Russians consider trading Ms. Griner For Mr. According to U.S. officials, Bout was a deal between two criminals. On the other hand Mr. Whelan was allegedly an American agent. in The Russian Telling, only an agent of equal importance or another agent would be able to give him up. American citizens do not have an a Russian Spy in Trade to custody That is how Mr. Krasikov got his start. in.
After two witnesses saw Mr. Krasikov throw his bike and bag into the Spree River, after twice shooting Zelimkhan Khangoshvili a Chechen separatist commander, who fought against, they were both arrested. Russian For all forces in The early 2000s when he was called a terrorist Russian State media. Later, police divers found a Glock 26 pistol in The river in The downtown park.
In frustration at being asked for a trade they couldn’t make, American officials broke with decades of tradition and told reporters they had made a deal. “substantial” offered to the Russians, making it obvious that Mr. Biden would exchange Mr. Bout for Ms. Griner And Mr. Whelan. They hoped that public pressure would convince the Russians to drop their insistent on Mr. Krasikov’s release and allow them to enter into a settlement.
It did not — for many months.
But just after Election Day in The United States Russian Contacts delivered a new message. This raised the possibility of Mr. Whelan being excluded from any deal and instead focusing on Ms. Griner. Russians suggested that Moscow might accept Mr. Bout is a fair trade.
Their crimes were very different. Bout was an illegal arms merchant to some of the world’s most violent forces, including some intent on killing Americans; Ms. Griner He was arrested for transporting vape cartridges that contained hashish oil. It was the first time the Russian diplomats made what they considered a genuine counteroffer.
The White House was open to the idea and held a series high-level meetings, including Mr. Biden, in order to determine if Russia was serious about making a one for one deal. This is similar to what they did months ago. in Trevor Reed was released from prison after a swap.
The situation was uncertain and fluid. The family of Mr. Whelan made it public that he had missed 2 calls with them. This raised concerns about his safety as well as reports that he may have been transferred from his prison to an hospital. in Russia.
Would the Russians have done anything to Mr. Whelan if they had? This could have led to a trade with Ms. Griner It was impossible, but it would also have been unlikely given the Russians’ eagerness to strike a deal. The possible deal for Ms. Griner The Americans tried to find out the cause of the incident but it was too late. Officials finally determined that Mr. Whelan was being returned to prison and he called his family.
Meeting in Biden signed off in the Oval Office last week. The Justice Department had already weighed in The national security advisor Jake Sullivan received objections to the deal and communicated them to the department. However, the department strongly opposes prisoner trades. It argues that this undermines the American justice system. The State Department recommended that the deal be made. This was also the opinion of other officials who believed that the Russians’ deal would not change and it was therefore time to make it happen. The president agreed.
The careful negotiations nearly fell apart when, a few more days later, Mr. Biden hosted President Emmanuel Macron, France, for a White House state dinner. CBS News reporter, John Kelly, reached out to White House reporting that the administration was considering swapping Ms. Griner For Mr. Bout.
Officials feared that a premature disclosure would cause the deal to be cancelled. They asked the network for a delay. CBS reported that it was. “agreed to a White House request to hold the reporting because officials expressed grave concern about the fragility of the then-emerging deal.”
Officials moved on after that. Armed with the president’s go-ahead, they pressed their Russian Your counterparts: Do you really believe that this is possible? The American diplomats expected a quicker response, but the answer was definitive. They said yes. After the state dinner, President Biden signed an executive grant for Mr. Bout, however, held back the grant while his aides made the transfer in motion.
Fearful of undercutting the agreement, the American diplomats made one final appeal to Mr. Whelan. The Russians asked if they had anyone other than Mr. Krasikov. in For Mr. Whelan as well as Ms. Griner. The Russians received a firm “no”, but they did not use that effort to cancel the agreement for Ms. Griner.
Within days, plans were set for two planes to take off — one from Moscow, where Ms. Griner With Mr. Bout.
There is one question you need to answer: Where do I make the swap? In the Cold War days, as well as as as recently as a RussianAmerican spy swap in 2010 President Barack Obama: Prisoners were exchanged in The Glienicke Bridge, the bridge that connects Europe in the middle in Potsdam, Germany, as made famous in The Tom Hanks movie “Bridge of Spies,” Or in Vienna, just like the 2010 trade.
Because of the American and European sanctions on Russia that were imposed after its invasion in Ukraine in Moscow did not want to send a plane to February in Europe is afraid it might be taken. Even long-neutral Switzerland had joined sanctions against Russia while Helsinki, Finland — a prime Russian-American meeting site during the Cold War — was no longer acceptable because the country is joining NATO.
The result was the United Arab Emirates. This small Gulf state is friendly with both Washington, and Moscow. President of the Emirates, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan raised Ms. Griner’s case with Mr. Putin during a meeting in The Emiratis were pleased to facilitate the transfer. The arrangement was made: Both sides would send planes into Abu Dhabi, the capital.
Cherelle Griner, Ms. Griner’s wife, was invited to the White House on Thursday morning ostensibly to meet with Mr. Sullivan for an update. However, when she arrived, Mr. Sullivan surprised and took her to the Oval Office where Mr. Biden announced that Ms. Griner came home. Ms. Griner The ground in Abu Dhabi, while Mr. Bout’s plane was 30 minutes out.
Once he had landed, his clemency document The swap was completed and captured in Distributed by Russian state media It also showed Ms. Griner Mr. Bout was escorted by officials from their respective countries to walk him across a dusty asphalt. After Ms. Griner He was taken away in One direction, Mr. Bout left with Russian Officials in another.
Cherelle and Mr. Biden Griner Celebrating before cameras in The Oval Office. But once the journalists were ushered out, the president had another, grimmer task: He had to call Mr. Whelan’s sister to explain why he was not coming home, at least not yet.
Neil MacFarquhar Contributed reporting from Paris Anton Troianovski Contributed reporting from Moscow