Zelimkhan Khangoshvili (left) and his assassin Vadim Krasikov.

TBILISI, DFWatch–Russian President Vladimir Putin has suggested his country might exchange American journalist Evan Gershkovich for a Russian assassin jailed in Germany. 

Speaking to former Fox News host Tucker Carlson in a two hour long interview, the Russian leader alluded to holding negotiations about the exchange of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, who is imprisoned by Moscow on espionage charges he denies.

On the topic of who the journalist might be exchanged for, Putin appeared to be making reference to a murder of a Georgian citizen in Berlin in 2019 at the hands of a Russian citizen connected to Russian intelligence.

Although naming neither Chechen rebel commander Zelimkhan Khangoshvili nor his assassin Vadim Krasikov, Putin evidently hinted that the Russians could negotiate the latter’s release in exchange for the release of Gershkovich.

At the end of the interview, Tucker asked whether Putin, as a “sign of […] decency”, would release Gershkovich, to which the Russian president replied that it is possible in principle, but in exchange for retaliatory steps, adding that “the talks are underway.”

“I do not rule out that the person you referred to, Mr. Gershkovich, may return to his motherland […] it does not make any sense to keep him in prison in Russia. We want the U.S. special services to think about how they can contribute to achieving the goals our special services are pursuing. We are ready to talk. Moreover, the talks are underway, and there have been many successful examples of these talks crowned with success. Probably this is going to be crowned with success as well, but we have to come to an agreement,” Putin said.

Putin did not say exactly what kind of agreement he was talking about, but he appeared to be referring to the Khangoshvili case, although without stating it outright.

“Let me tell you a story about a person serving a sentence in an allied country of the U.S. That person, due to patriotic sentiments, eliminated a bandit in one of the European capitals. During the events in the Caucasus, do you know what he [the bandit] was doing? I don’t want to say that, but I will do it anyway. He was laying our soldiers, taken prisoner, on the road and then he drove his car over their heads. What kind of a person is that? Can he be even called a human? But there was a patriot who eliminated him in one of the European capitals. Whether he did that of his own volition or not, that is a different question,” Putin said.

Russian officials have long been requesting a prisoner swap of Krasikov, as it was done with Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, who was exchanged for Brittney Griner, the American professional basketball player convicted in Russia for smuggling a small amount of hash oil.

Krasikov is currently serving a life sentence in Germany for the elimination of Chechen field commander Zelimkhan Khangoshvili, a citizen of Georgia.

Zelimkhan Khangoshvili made a name by conducting several combat operations against the Russian military during and after the Second Chechen War in the early 2000s. Among them was a bloody raid in Ingushetia, which was carried out by Chechen and Ingush rebels led by Shamil Basayev and Doku Umarov. The rebels killed dozens of policemen and military personnel, including the Minister of Internal Affairs of Ingushetia and his deputy, as well as three officers of the Russian elite special force unit Vimpel. The total number of dead was 93 people. Khangoshvili’s platoon actively participated in this operation. 

After the operation, the Russian special services started liquidating its participants. Shamil Basayev and Doku Umarov were assassinated in 2007 and 2013, respectively.

Khangoshvili was originally from Pankisi, a valley in Georgia with a historic population of Kists, who are a subgroup of Chechens. After the Chechen resistance weakened, he returned to Georgia, where he survived an armed attack in 2015. Khangoshvili claimed that the attack was the work of the Russian special services that were out to kill him.

Soon after, he left Georgia and moved to Germany with his family.

Zelimkhan Khangoshvili was killed in 2019 in Berlin. The police quickly arrested Vadim Krasikov, an assassin affiliated with Russian intelligence. He was sentenced to life imprisonment by a German court in 2021.