Kremlin Addresses Possible Swap After Ambassador Meets With Gershkovich
By Anatoly Kurmanaev, Michael Crowley and Gabriela Sá Pessoa
July 3, 2023
The Kremlin said on Tuesday that Russia and the United States were in contact over the possibility of a prisoner swap, an apparent reference to the jailed Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich that came the day after he met with the U.S. ambassador.
Dmitri S. Peskov, the Kremlin’s spokesman, said that such discussions would not be made public. They should “continue in complete silence,” he said.
American officials have repeatedly called for the release of Mr. Gershkovich, who has been held for more than 13 weeks on what the U.S. government and The Journal have said are bogus allegations of espionage.
The United States considers Mr. Gershkovich and Paul Whelan, a former Marine serving a 16-year sentence after being convicted in 2020 of spying, to be “wrongfully detained” — the equivalent of being political hostages.
The statement from the Kremlin was the latest acknowledgment from Moscow that Russia could be open to an exchange, although there have been no outward signs of any talks.
Citing the continuing efforts to secure the release of both Americans, a State Department spokesperson on Tuesday said there would be no details released about the negotiations.
Lynne M. Tracy, the U.S. ambassador to Russia visited Mr. Gershkovich at Lefortovo Prison in Moscow on Monday, the first meeting between the journalist and an American diplomatic official since April 17. Ms. Tracy said that Mr. Gershkovich was in “good health” and remained “strong, despite his circumstances.”
Mr. Gershkovich, 31, has been held since late March at Lefortovo, a high-security jail known for difficult conditions for inmates, including extreme isolation. Thursday would be his 100th day in detention.
Russian officials have hinted in the past at the possibility of a prisoner swap, including in April when its foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, nodded at a potential exchange. In a similar line to Mr. Peskov’s, he said that “publicity here will only complicate the process.”
The last swap negotiated by the United States and Russia involved the W.N.B.A. star Brittney Griner, who was released in December in return for Viktor Bout, a notorious Russian arms dealer who was serving a 25-year sentence after being convicted in 2011 by a New York jury on charges that included conspiring to kill American citizens. Ms. Griner had been detained on minor drug charges a week before Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, and pleaded guilty in her case before a swap agreement was reached.
Mr. Gershkovich, who has been based in Russia for almost six years, was detained on March 29 during a reporting trip to the central Russian city of Yekaterinburg. If convicted on the espionage charges, for which Russian prosecutors have offered no evidence, Mr. Gershkovich could face 20 years in a penal colony.
In June, a Moscow court denied an appeal by the journalist’s lawyers to end his pretrial detention, which had been extended to Aug. 30. Ms. Tracy attended that court session, along with Mr. Gershkovich’s parents, Ella Milman and Mikhail Gershkovich.
Anatoly Kurmanaev is a foreign correspondent covering Russia’s transformation after its invasion of Ukraine. More about Anatoly Kurmanaev
Michael Crowley is a diplomatic correspondent in the Washington bureau. He joined The Times in 2019 as a White House correspondent in the Trump administration and has filed from dozens of countries. More about Michael Crowley
Gabriela Sá Pessoa is a reporter on the Live desk at The Times. She is the 2023 International Women’s Media Foundation Elizabeth Neuffer fellow. More about Gabriela Sá Pessoa