CNN EXCLUSIVE: Russian officials demand extradition of convicted felon in Griner/Whelan prisoner swap

The Russians made the request to the US earlier this month through an informal back channel used by a spy agency called the FSB. Victor Bott, sources said. Krasikov was convicted and sentenced to life in prison in December for the 2019 murder of former Chechen fighter Zelimkhan “Tornik” Kongoshvili in Berlin’s Kleiner Tiergarten.

The request was seen as problematic for a number of reasons, the sources told CNN, not least of which is that Krasikov is in German custody. Therefore, the US government did not consider the request to be a formal protest to the US offer, which was first revealed by CNN on Wednesday, as the request was not formally communicated, but instead sent through the FSB backchannel.

But underscoring how determined the Biden administration is to bring Kreiner and Whelan back to the U.S., U.S. officials have quietly asked the Germans whether they would be willing to include Kraszko in a trade, a senior German government source told CNN. A U.S. official said he had checked Krasiko’s condition.

The talks were never escalated to the highest level of the German government and were not seriously considered, including Krasikov in a potential trade, the German source said. But the previously undisclosed discussions reveal that Russian officials are somewhat engaged with the U.S. proposal.

Although the request was not made through formal channels, the FSB has extensive cash and is an important part of the Russian security apparatus. Russian President Vladimir Putin famously worked for its powerful predecessor, the KGB.

When asked for comment, a State Department official told CNN, “To preserve the best chance of a successful outcome, we’re not going to comment publicly on any speculation.” Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said Wednesday that the U.S. put “a substantial proposal on the table weeks ago” to facilitate the release of Griner and Whelan. “Our governments have been in direct contact repeatedly about that proposal,” he said.

Blinken spoke with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov about the proposed transfer on Friday. They have a “Open and direct dialogue” Blinken said.

“I pressed the Kremlin to accept the substantial proposal we put forward in the publication of Paul Whelan and Brittney Griner,” Blinken added.

Even without Krasikov, multiple sources told CNN that the Russians would 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 Bout and Roman Seleznev released

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“I am not sure that any further action, especially in the public sector, will help to find a proper, balanced compromise and find a basis to alleviate the fate of many comrades like Victor Bode with health problems. [or] Chelesnev and others,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told reporters earlier this month.

But U.S. officials believe Russia is trying to buy time by making serious concessions until the investigation into Kreiner is over.

Griner was accused of entering Russia in February with marijuana in his luggage, which he said he used for pain relief and accidentally stuffed in his bags. Whalen was convicted of espionage in 2020 and sentenced to 16 years in prison. The State Department has declared that both of them have been wrongfully detained.

CNN’s Jennifer Hansler contributed reporting.

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