US is exploring an international prisoner swap with Russia to release WSJ reporter Evan Gershkovich
According to one report, the US wants to use Russian prisoners held in other countries as bargaining chip to free Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich and other Americans detained by the Kremlin.
The State Department told the WSJ on Thursday that a prisoner swap with Russia would be the most realistic way for the US to negotiate the release of the wrongly imprisoned journalist, as well as for Paul Whelan, a Michigan security executive who has been in prison for more than 20 years Moscow will be detained for four years.
“Given the ongoing work to ensure the release of Paul and Evans, we will not be releasing specific details of the negotiation process,” a spokesman for the outlet said Thursday.
“But more broadly, we regularly engage with partners around the world to discuss cases of wrongful detention and, in some cases, seek assistance in enforcing a release.”
Although American officials usually make concessions for the release of its civilians, Russia has reportedly made it clear that it is interested in a balanced exchange of prisoners.
After swapping notorious Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout for WNBA Britney Griner in December, the US appears to have run out of comparable trade candidates for Gershkovich and Whelan.
Officials have been on the lookout for other countries holding Russian nationals who may be included in a negotiated deal.
Moscow has expressed an interest in brokering a deal to win back Vadim Krasikov, a Russian who is serving a life sentence in Germany for killing a former Chechen rebel leader in Berlin at Moscow’s behest, people familiar with the matter told the outlet.
Suspected Russian spies have also been arrested in Slovenia and Brazil in recent months.
A senior administration official floated the swap idea shortly after Gershkovich was arrested while on duty in the city of Yekaterinburg in late March.
“As part of the rule of law, and then as part of the president’s assent policy, we are open to exploring different types of avenues of influence,” the official said at the time.
Gershkovich, who has reported on Russia for six years, has been accused of collecting classified information about a military factory, a crime punishable by up to 20 years in prison.
The State Department found that Gershkovich was “wrongly detained” by Russia, a move that allows the US to better monitor intelligence and push for regular consular access.
The US has also ruled that Whelan, a former Marine, was wrongly sentenced to 16 years in prison for espionage.
Whelan said last year he was “disappointed” that he wasn’t rescued by US authorities, particularly after officials scramble to free Griner from 10 months in captivity on marijuana charges.
“I was arrested for a crime that was never committed,” Whelan said at the time. “I don’t understand why I’m still sitting here.”