White House Says Still "Negotiating" For Whelan's Release, Lashes Out At Critics

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by Tyler Durden
Sunday, Dec 11, 2022 - 11:00 PM

The Biden administration says it is still engaging with Moscow in an ongoing attempt to secure detained Marine veteran Paul Whelan's release from the Russian prison where he's serving a 16-year sentence, which reportedly involves hard labor.

On Sunday, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told ABC's "This Week" the US is still "negotiating" for his release - confirming that recently a "very serious, specific proposal" was made to the Russians.

He further gave some background on the Brittney Griner release while seeking to deflect widespread criticisms that Whelan was left behind for the less serious case of WNBA star Griner. Biden has been accused of simply choosing her for her fame and the bigger PR campaign rallying behind her.

Kirby described that for months the White House pushed hard to gain Whelan and Griner's release together, but "it just didn't land anywhere... with the Russians," he explained in the Sunday comments.

"As we progressed through this summer and into the fall... it was clear that they were treating Paul very separately, very distinctly because of these sham espionage charges they levied against him." Kirby said that just before Griner's release it became clear that Whelan's release would remain unlikely. 

"It really occurred to us that there was just no chance of doing it last week... we had been trying all the way up until the moment we actually secured the deal that got Brittney home, we were still trying to get Paul out," he said.

Days ago CNN cited US officials who listed some of the Russian names that could potentially be included in a future Whelan swap

US officials made quiet inquiries to the Germans about whether they might be willing to include [Vadim] Krasikov in the trade, a senior German government source told CNN earlier this year. But ultimately, the US was not able to secure Krasikov’s release. The German government was not willing to seriously consider including Krasikov –who assassinated a Georgian citizen in broad daylight in Berlin in 2019 – in a potential trade, the German source said.

The US made several other offers to the Russians, sources said, to try to get them to agree to include Whelan in the swap. Among the names floated by the US was Alexander Vinnik, a Russian national extradited to the US in August on allegations of money laundering, hacking and extortion. The US also offered to trade Roman Seleznev, a convicted Russian cyber-criminal currently serving a 14-year sentence in the US, sources said.

The biggest name on that list is Vadim Krasikov, a former colonel from Russia’s domestic spy organization. He's serving out a life sentence in Germany for murder after being convicted in the assassination of a former Chechen fighter, Zelimkhan "Tornike" Khangoshvili, which was carried out in a Berlin park.

Kirby used the Sunday morning media interviews to lash out at the White House's critics who point to the Russians getting the deal of the century in Viktor Bout's release.

"They weren’t on the phone. They weren’t watching the incredible effort and determination by [Roger Carstens] and his team to try to get both Paul and Brittney out together," Kirby said. "In a negotiation, you do what you can. You do as much as you can. You push and you push and you push. And we did. And this deal we got last week, that was the deal that was possible. It was the deal we could get now. Now was the moment we could get it, and we executed it."