German Man Arrested in Russia for Cannabis Gummies amid Prisoner Swap Talks

A German man was detained by Russian customs at St Petersburg airport on Wednesday, after they found cannabis gummies in his luggage. The man, who was travelling from Istanbul, faces up to seven years in prison for drug smuggling. The incident comes amid ongoing negotiations between Russia and the US over a possible prisoner exchange involving a Wall Street Journal reporter and a former US Marine held in Russia, and a Russian citizen jailed in Germany for murder.

The 38-year-old German man, whose name has not been disclosed, was stopped by Russian customs officers at St Petersburg airport, after they noticed a pack of “Fink Green Goldbears” in his luggage. The pack had a picture of a marijuana leaf on it, and the gummies had a “pungent smell”, according to the Russian customs service.

A test showed that the gummies contained tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main psychoactive ingredient in cannabis, which is illegal in Russia. The man was arrested and charged with drug smuggling, which carries a maximum penalty of seven years in prison.

The man told the customs officers that he had bought the gummies in Germany, where they are legal for medical purposes, and that he used them to help him sleep on long flights. He said he was unaware that they were banned in Russia, and that he had come to visit a woman he had met online.

Prisoner Swap Talks between Russia and the US

The arrest of the German man coincides with the ongoing talks between Russia and the US over a possible prisoner swap deal. Moscow is seeking the release of a Russian citizen, Vadim Krasikov, who was convicted of killing a Chechen dissident, Zelimkhan Khangoshvili, in a park in Berlin in 2019. Krasikov, who was sentenced to life imprisonment in February 2023, is believed to be a hitman working for the Russian state.

In exchange, Moscow is willing to free two Americans, Evan Gershkovich and Paul Whelan, who are accused of spying and held in Russian prisons. Gershkovich, a Wall Street Journal reporter, was detained in March 2023, and is the first American journalist to be charged with espionage by Russia since the Cold War. Whelan, a former US Marine, was arrested in Moscow in 2018, and was sentenced to 16 years of hard labor in 2020.

Russian President Vladimir Putin confirmed the prisoner swap talks in an interview with US journalist Tucker Carlson last week. He said he was ready to release Gershkovich, if Germany agreed to hand over Krasikov. He also said he was open to discussing Whelan’s case, but did not mention any specific conditions.

Germany’s Silence and US’s Hope

Germany has not commented on the reports of the prisoner swap deal, and it is unclear whether it would agree to extradite Krasikov to Russia. Such a move would be unusual, and would raise questions about the political motivations and implications of the deal. Germany has accused Russia of orchestrating the murder of Khangoshvili, who was a vocal critic of the Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, a close ally of Putin. Germany also expelled two Russian diplomats in 2019, in response to the killing.

The US, on the other hand, has expressed hope that the prisoner swap talks would lead to the release of Gershkovich and Whelan, who have denied the spying charges and said they were framed by Russia. The US has also accused Russia of using foreign citizens as bargaining chips in its geopolitical games. The US has called for the immediate and unconditional release of Gershkovich and Whelan, and has offered its support and assistance to them and their families.

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