Paul Whelan wasn’t exchanged along with basketball superstar Brittney Griner because the Kremlin would only release the former U.S. Marine if Germany released a Russian spy serving a life sentence for murder.
Russia wanted the release of arms dealer Viktor Bout in exchange for Griner, but would not release Whelan without the return of convicted assassin Vadim Krasikov, according to news reports.
Moscow was willing to exchange Griner for Bout because the Kremlin considers the two of them criminals, the New York Times reported Friday, citing U.S. officials. Russia has asserted that Whelan is a U.S. agent and is only willing to exchange him for someone of similar status, the Times said.
The United States, which has denied Moscow’s allegations against Whelan said it does not have any Russian espionage agents to trade, but Russia asked for Krasikov to be returned earlier this year, CNN reported in July.
The U.S. tried to negotiate a multinational agreement between the three countries which would have returned Krasikov to Russia, Whelan to America while providing a benefit to Germany, but the European country refused, the Times reported on Friday.
Krasikov, who served as a colonel in Russia’s FSB intelligence agency was convicted last year for the Aug. 23, 2019 assassination of Zelimkhan “Tornike” Khangoshvili, a former Chechen militia commander who fought against Russia two decades ago.
Prosecutors in Berlin accused the Kremlin of ordering the assassination against Khangoshvili who was seeking asylum in Germany.
The Kremlin ordered hit was considered so offensive to the German government that prosecutors asked for a life sentence, a rare move outside the country’s usual maximum of 15 years, reported the Washington Post.
Whelan is a 52-year-old Michigan executive who was arrested in 2018 while attending a friend’s wedding in Moscow. He is now serving a 16-year sentence after being convicted of what U.S. officials are bogus espionage charges.
Griner, 32, was detained at a Moscow airport in February and was sentenced to nine-years after pleading guilty to drug charges for possessing two vape cartridges containing less than a gram of cannabis oil.