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Brittney Griner Evaluated at Hospital After Russian Prisoner Swap: Live Updates

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WASHINGTON — Each month when American diplomats asked for the release of Britney Griner and Paul Whelan from Russian prisons, they received the same, infuriating answer: If you want both prisoners, trade Vadim Kraskov. I want it as part of

Krasykov is the assassin who murdered a Chechen fighter in a Berlin park in broad daylight in 2019, a killing German officials brazenly say was committed on the orders of Russian intelligence services. Mr Kraskov, who was convicted and sentenced to life in prison in Germany, was not detained in the United States to be traded to Russia.

Americans thought a request for a swap involving WNBA star Griner and former US Marine Whelan was unrealistic. and was little surprised when Berlin refused to release what it considered a cold killer. I looked for a deal, but that didn’t go anywhere either.

Some Trump administration diplomats have personally concluded that insisting on Mr Kraskov’s release is a deadlock tactic of Russian President Vladimir V. Putin. USA last month. Others said the Russians were serious and Washington flatly denied being a spy, but it was a shame that Moscow security officials handed over Whelan, who was convicted of espionage. I thought it was a way to keep

In any case, how Mr. Biden agreed to an exchange that freed Mr. Griner and did not free Mr. Whelan was carried out through covert negotiations and public stances against the backdrop of a brutal US war. It was a story of feints and conspiracies. Armed Ukrainians were fighting Russian invaders. Ultimately, the president will free one American and leave another behind, according to a senior U.S. official directly involved in the negotiations, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe sensitive diplomacy. I was forced to choose.

Griner arrived in the United States early Friday morning and landed in San Antonio. There she underwent a medical evaluation at Brooke Army Medical Center, was reunited with her family, and was a relief to Mr Biden and his team. and the president has vowed to redouble efforts to bring him home while his frustrated family waits.

In Moscow on Friday, Mr Putin said Russia remained in contact with US officials and that “everything is possible” regarding further prisoner exchanges. A U.S. official issued a similar message, pledging to continue talks in hopes of getting Whelan home as soon as possible.

Two incarcerated Americans provided separate cases that were eventually linked and then dislinked. Griner, who was held on minor drug charges a week before Russia invaded the former Soviet republic of Ukraine, was considered a hostage during a standoff with Western powers over the conflict. . Whelan, a former U.S. Marine, has been in prison since 2018 on espionage charges, long before the war in Ukraine.

The outline of a possible deal was being considered as far back as last spring. The Russian, who communicated through intelligence services, was arrested in Thailand in 2008 and in a US prison where he is preparing to exchange Mr. Griner for notorious Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, who is serving a 25-year sentence. revealed that there is But it was reluctant to include Mr. Whelan in the package deal.

Bout was important to Russians because of his connections with the security services. Although he is not known to be close to Mr Putin, U.S. officials say Mr Bout has ties to the Russian power structure. And Russia has martyred Mr. Bout for the last 14 years. Release him and Mr. Putin will finally be able to brag about bringing a patriot home.

For the Russians, trading Mr. Griner for Mr. Bout meant swapping two criminals, according to U.S. officials. Mr. Whelan, on the other hand, was most likely an American agent in the Russian story, so the only person who deserved to let him go was another agent or an equally important person. I don’t have a Russian spy inside. Then came Mr. Kraskov.

Kraskov, who identified himself as Vadim A. Sokolov, was arrested after two witnesses saw him throwing his bicycle and bag into the River Spree after shooting twice at the victim, Zelimkhan Kangoshvili. . In the 2000s, Russian state media considered him a terrorist. Police divers later found a Glock 26 pistol in a river in a downtown park.

U.S. officials, frustrated by the failed swap demands, told reporters that Biden would trade Bout for Griner, making a “substantial” offer to Russia. said he did, breaking a long-standing tradition. said Whelan. They hoped that public pressure would force Russia to drop its claims to Mr. Kraskov and come to an agreement.

It wasn’t—for many months.

However, shortly after Election Day in the United States, Russian officials delivered a new message, raising the possibility that Mr. Whelan would be left out of the deal and devoted exclusively to Mr. Griner instead. If so, Moscow may see Mr Bout as a fair deal, the Russian said.

Mr. Bout was an illegal arms dealer to some of the world’s most violent militaries, including intent to kill Americans. Griner was detained for traveling with e-cigarette cartridges containing hash oil. But it was the first time that the Russians had produced what they considered a true counteroffer, if American diplomats were really going to comply.

At the White House, the possibility prompted a series of high-level meetings and discussions, including Mr. Biden. before the exchange that freed Trevor Reed, another imprisoned American.

The situation was fluid and uncertain. Even when they were discussing options, Mr. Whelan’s family publicly stated that he missed two phone calls with them, raising concerns for his safety and even as he was released from prison to Russia. It was reported that he had been transferred to a hospital.

Did the Russians do something to Mr. Whelan? That could have made a deal with Mr. Griner impossible, but now it’s the Russians who seem eager to make a deal. Considering that, it seemed unlikely. Work on Griner’s potential deal stalled for days as the Americans tried to figure out what had happened. Authorities eventually determined Mr. Whelan was back in prison, and he called his family.

At a meeting in the Oval Office early last week, Mr. Biden was ready to sign. The Justice Department opposed the deal and filed an objection through National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan. However, the Department of Justice has a policy that opposes the prisoner trade entirely, claiming it undermines the U.S. justice system. concluded that the deal from Russia was never going to change and it was time to do it. The president agreed.

But the cautious negotiations all but broke down when Mr. Biden invited French President Emmanuel Macron to a state dinner at the White House. A CBS News journalist contacted the White House to report that the administration was preparing to trade Griner for Bout.

Officials feared a premature disclosure would likely jeopardize the deal. They asked the network to postpone. According to CBS, it “agreed to the White House’s request to withhold the report because officials expressed serious concerns about the fragility of the arrangement at the time.”

Once that was resolved, authorities moved forward. Armed with the president’s go-ahead, they put pressure on their Russian counterparts: Are you serious about this? The answer came sooner and more decisively than the American diplomats expected. Yes they said. The day after the state dinner, Mr. Biden signed an administrative grant to pardon Bout, but he withheld it while his aides began the transfer.

Wary of backing down on the deal, American diplomats carefully made a final appeal to Mr. Whelan, asking the Russians if there was anyone besides Mr. Krasikoff they wanted in exchange for both Mr. Whelan and Mr. Griner. I asked They got a resounding no, but the Russians didn’t use their efforts as an excuse to back out of a deal they were developing for Mr. Griner.

Plans were made for two planes to take off within a few days. One flew from Moscow, where Mr. Griner was transferred, and the other flew from the United States with Mr. Bout.

One question to solve: where to do the swap? During the Cold War, and most recently under President Barack Obama in 2010, the Russian-American spy exchange took place, exchanging prisoners in the middle of Europe. The Glienicke Bridge in Potsdam, Germany, made famous by Tom Hanks in the movie The Bridge. of Spies ”, or in Vienna, as in the 2010 trade.

But with US and European sanctions imposed on Russia after it invaded Ukraine in February, Russia wants to send planes anywhere in Europe for fear they could be seized. Even long-standing neutral Switzerland joined the sanctions against Russia, and Helsinki, Finland, a major meeting place between Russia and the United States during the Cold War, was forced to join NATO. It is no longer accepted because

A compromise was the United Arab Emirates, a small Gulf state friendly to both Washington and Moscow. Emirates President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan raised Griner’s case with Putin at a meeting in October, and the emirate was happy to facilitate the transfer. Arrangements were made for both sides to send planes to the capital, Abu Dhabi.

Mr. Griner’s wife, Sherrel Griner, was invited to the White House on Thursday morning, ostensibly to meet with Mr. Sullivan for an update. But when she arrived, Mr. Sullivan took her to her Oval Office and surprised her. At that point, Mr. Griner was on the ground in Abu Dhabi and Mr. Bout’s plane had left him half an hour.

when he landed his amnesty letter It was captured in a grainy video distributed by Russian state media. It showed Mr. Griner and Mr. Bout walking to the middle of the dusty tarmac, escorted by officials from their respective countries. After a brief pause, Mr. Griner was taken in one direction and Mr. Bout in another direction with Russian officials.

Biden and Sherrell Griner celebrated in front of cameras in the Oval Office. But kicking out the journalists gave the president another tough task. He had to call Mr. Whelan’s sister and explain why he hadn’t come home at least yet.

Neil Mcfarker Contributed a report from Paris. Anton Troianovsky Contributed a report from Moscow.

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