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Paul Whelan not freed with Brittney Griner over jailed Russian assassin

Ex-Marine Paul Whelan wasn’t freed with back-in-the-USA basketball star Brittney Griner because Russia demanded the release of a killer spy who’s imprisoned for life in Germany.

Negotiations to swap Russian “Merchant of Death” arms dealer Viktor Bout for both Griner and Whelan broke down over Russian demands that convicted assassin Vadim Krasikov be included in the deal, according to multiple reports.

Russia was willing to trade Griner for Bout because it considers both of them criminals, the New York Times said Friday, citing unidentified US officials.

But Russia claims that Whelan is an American agent and insisted that he would only be exchanged for a Russian counterpart or someone of similar stature, the Times said.

The US — which says the allegations against Whelan are bogus — does not have any Russian spies in custody and Russia floated Krasikov’s name earlier this year, CNN reported in July.

German officials refused to release Krasikov when asked by the US, and an American attempt to broker a three-way deal in which Germany would get something also failed, the Times said Friday.

Krasikov, a former colonel in Russia’s infamous FSB intelligence agency, was convicted last year for the broad-daylight assassination of Zelimkhan “Tornike” Khangoshvili on Aug. 23, 2019.

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.

Although German criminals generally don’t serve more than 15 years in prison, Krasikov’s conviction included a finding that would likely prevent an early release, according to the Washington Post.

That revelation that Russia wanted Krasikov freed followed Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s July confirmation that the US had made a “substantial proposal” to get Russia to release both Griner and Whelan.

Griner, 32, was arrested at a Moscow airport in February and was serving a nine-year sentence after pleading guilty to drug charges for possessing two vape cartridges containing less than a gram of cannabis oil.

Whelan, a 52-year-old corporate security executive from Michigan, was arrested in 2018 while in Moscow to attend a friend’s wedding and is serving a 16-year prison sentence after being convicted of what the US says are baseless espionage charges.

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