The United States and the Russian Federation have been conducting talks regarding a swap of imprisoned Russian spies for foreigners detained by the Kremlin, and the Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny is also among the names mentioned, while Russia wants convicted killer Vadim Krasikov to be returned.
Source: The Wall Street Journal, citing unnamed Western officials
Details: Western officials said Moscow has been raising the issue of swapping Krasikov since 2021, when the Russian killer was sentenced to life imprisonment in Germany for the murder of former Chechen field commander Zelimkhan Khangoshvili.
US citizens Paul Whelan, convicted by Russia on espionage charges, and Wall Street Journal journalist Evan Gershkovich, who has been in a Moscow pre-trial detention centre since March on the same charges, are also among the names mentioned in the swap.
A senior Western official involved in the exchange talks with Russia said Putin is only interested in swapping Krasikov.
Quotes from WSJ: "Officials in several countries said a multilateral deal to swap Russian detainees in Western countries for Western citizens held in Russia, as well as imprisoned dissidents such as Alexei Navalny, was possible."
Details: WSJ noted that US President Joe Biden said in July that he was serious about talking with the Kremlin regarding a swap of Russian prisoners to bring Gershkovich back home, but did not provide any details.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said in April that Russia would consider the possibility of the swap only after the verdict in Gershkovich’s case.
Meanwhile, Berlin did not indicate whether it was considering the possibility of exchanging Krasikov. Such an exchange may reportedly face certain challenges in Germany, as government lawyers issued a legal opinion last year stating that a convicted murderer cannot be exchanged.
Western officials say any talks involving Krasikov would be sensitive and unpredictable, given the gravity of his crime. A German court has ruled that Russia ordered Khangoshvili's murder, committed at noon in a park near the German chancellor's office.
For reference: Russia sentenced Navalny to 19 years in a special regime penal colony.
In 2021, Krasikov was sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of former Chechen field commander Zelimkhan Khangoshvili in Germany in August 2019.
The Russian assassin chased his victim on a bicycle and murdered Khangoshvili at lunchtime near a crowded playground in a central Berlin city park.
Krasikov first shot Khangoshvili in the back, then got off his bike and cold-bloodedly fired twice at the man's head in front of children and parents in the park.
A German court found that the murder of Khangoshvili, a man who, as Moscow claims, led a terrorist attack in Russia in 2004, was a deliberately cruel message from Russia to its foes abroad, telling them that even if they seek asylum in the West, they will still be hunted down.
Shortly before Krasikov's sentencing in 2021, Russian President Vladimir Putin reportedly ordered Nikolai Patrushev, his chief security adviser, to explore the option of a prisoner exchange to free Krasikov.
The WSJ notes that this underscores Krasikov's high value to Putin.