The lopsided trade that sprung basketball player Brittney Griner didn’t include U.S. Marine Paul Whelan–because the Kremlin demanded convicted assassin Vadim Krasikov be freed from a German prison in exchange, according to the New York Times and multiple other outlets. The murderous Krasikov was once a colonel in the notorious Federal Security Service (FSB), the main successor to the KGB.
After Germany refused to take part in a three-way deal to free Krasikov, the United States instead settled on swapping Griner for “Merchant of Death” arms dealer Viktor Bout in a roundly-criticized move that Republican Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas predicted will bring more violence around the world and result in more Americans being imprisoned unjustly overseas.
Whelan, a 52-year-old corporate attorney, has been imprisoned in Russia for nearly four years of a 16-year sentence on spying charges the Biden administration calls “baseless.” Krasikov meanwhile, was thrown in the tank for the brazen broad-daylight killing of Zelimkhan “Tornike” Khangoshvili in 2019, a hit which the Germans believe the Kremlin ordered:
Krasikov used a bicycle to tail Khangoshvili through Berlin before shooting him three times, execution-style, with a silenced Glock 26 pistol in the Kleiner Tiergarten park near Germany’s parliament building.
German prosecutors said the hit was ordered by Moscow because the victim–who was seeking asylum in Germany–was a former Chechen militia commander who fought against Russia in the early 2000s.
Griner, now back in the U.S., was sentenced to nine years on a cannabis charge and sent to a Russian penal colony. As I argued at the time, she would probably just end up being a pawn in a trade, and that’s exactly what happened.
Putin completely bested Joe Biden in the deal, and while I think it was appropriate for the administration to try to get an American citizen home, it is preposterous that we freed an international arms dealer responsible for thousands of deaths in exchange for a basketball player who broke Russia’s drug laws.
The deal would have been even more spectacularly terrible if Germany had agreed to spring the murderous Vadim Krasikov–even for the price of Tom Whelan. The administration should be working to do everything in its power to get Whelan out–without “giving away the farm,” as Cotton pointed out.
It makes one wonder if Putin even wanted the trade. By setting the price so high he may have strategized that Biden would either decline outright or be unable to convince Germany to help out (which was, in fact, the end result). It was a lose-lose proposition for Biden. He should have said no to the Griner deal and insisted on better terms to get her and Whelan out, and acted like the leader of the free world, not a hapless functionary.
It’s certainly within the realm of possibility that Putin simply wanted to embarrass Biden on the world stage. He certainly succeeded in that. Progressives are thrilled that a female black lesbian basketball player who doesn’t want to stand for our national anthem has been freed–as if her sexual identity was somehow extremely important in a prisoner swap–but on a geo-political level it wasn’t a smart trade at all, and Whelan still sits in prison.
Putin played Biden like a fiddle.
-> Read more of RedState’s coverage of the Brittney Griner prisoner swap.