In a recent interview with ex-Fox News anchor Tucker Carlson, Vladimir Putin announced that Russia is ready to exchange journalist Evan Gershkovich of The Wall Street Journal for FSB-linked hitman Vadim Krasikov, who is serving a life sentence in Germany for the murder of Zelimkhan Khangoshvili, a former Chechen commander who fought against Russia in the Second Chechen and the Russo-Georgian war. According to Putin, the journalist, who is jailed in Russia on espionage charges, could be exchanged if there is a “reciprocal movement.” At the same time, Putin admitted that he is not sure whether Gershkovich is indeed a spy.
“I don't know. He may have been dragged into it; he may have acted recklessly, on his own initiative. Be that as it may, it's still espionage.
«I don't know who [Gershkovich] worked for. But I repeat: obtaining classified information in a clandestine manner is called espionage, and he was working in the interests of American intelligence services or some other entities. I don't think he was working for Monaco because Monaco is hardly interested in getting that information. It's the intelligence services that have to reach an agreement [on the exchange], you see? Certain progress has been made. There are other people who we believe are not connected to the intelligence services.”
In addition, Putin insinuates that Krasikov's murder of Khangoshvili in Germany was ordered by Russia: “There was a patriot who liquidated [Khangoshvili] in one of the European capitals. Whether he was acting on his own is another matter.”
Evan Gershkovich was arrested in Yekaterinburg when he flew in to interview PR expert Yaroslav Shirshikov about public attitudes towards recruitment to the Wagner Group. Russian security services pursued the reporter while he was on an editorial assignment, recording his movements on camera and pressuring his sources. The journalist speculated that his phone might have been tapped. During another trip, to Pskov, he was also followed and filmed by unknown individuals.
Assassin Vadim Krasikov, whom Putin wants in exchange for the journalist, murdered Zelimkhan Khangoshvili in Berlin's Kleiner Tiergarten on Aug. 23, 2019, shooting him twice in the head with a Glock 26 pistol. In December 2019, the investigation of the crime was handed over to the German Public Prosecutor General’s Office. Krasikov insisted throughout the trial that he was Vadim Sokolov, a civil engineer from Bryansk, and never confessed to the murder.
Before that, Krasikov was declared wanted by Russian police through Interpol in 2014 as a suspect in another murder case, but his arrest warrant was withdrawn in 2015. The assassin was suspected of murdering businessman Albert Nazranov, whose killer had also approached him by bicycle, as in Khangoshvili’s case. Furthermore, according to a joint investigation by The Insider, Bellingcat, Der Spiegel, and Dossier, Vadim Krasikov and two members of the FSB spetznaz force Vympel assassinated businessman Alexander Kozlov in Karelia in 2007.
In July 2022, the Russian Federation requested that Vadim Krasikov be placed on the exchange list. U.S. authorities joined the request, but Germany refused, pointing to the gravity of Krasikov's crime. In December 2022, Russia attempted to exchange Krasikov for U.S. national Paul Whelan but was unsuccessful.