Friday 14 July 2023

Biden Says ‘Process Is Underway’ In Potential Prisoner Swap With Russia For WSJ Reporter

 President Biden said he is “serious” about a potential prisoner exchange with Russia for Evan Gershkovich, an American reporter for The Wall Street Journal. 

During a press briefing Thursday in Helsinki, Finland, with Finnish President Sauli Niinisto, Biden said the process for a prisoner exchange is already underway. Gershkovich has been detained in Russia since late March, and the United States has labeled it a wrongful detention. 

“I’m serious about a prisoner exchange,” Biden said when asked for an update on Gershkovich. “I’m serious about doing all we can to free Americans who are being illegally held in Russia or anywhere else for that matter. That process is underway.”

Gershkovich was arrested in Yekaterinburg on March 29 on espionage charges. His detainment was the first arrest of an American journalist on espionage charges in Russia since 1986. Gershkovich, the U.S. government, and The Wall Street Journal all deny the charges.  

Last week, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan made similar comments on the matter, saying the U.S. has been in contact with Russia throughout the ordeal. 

“We remain in contact with Russian authorities at high levels on these cases to try to figure out a way to bring unjustly detained Americans home, including Evan,” Sullivan said. “We have also made clear for months now – even before Evan was detained, as we were dealing with Paul Whelan – that we are prepared to do hard things in order to get our citizens home, including getting Evan home.” 

Whelan is a U.S. Marine veteran who has been detained in the country since 2018. He’s currently serving a 16-year prison sentence in a penal colony on espionage charges, accusations which Whelan denies and the U.S. government says are baseless. 

In December, the Biden administration was heavily criticized when it traded Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout — known as the “Merchant of Death” — for WNBA player Britney Griner, who was arrested in February 2022. Whelan was not part of the deal. 

At the time, then-House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy called the trade a “big win for [Russian President Vladimir] Putin” and said that Biden “left a Marine behind.”

Last week, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that they were in contact with the U.S. on the matter, but said Russia doesn’t want details of a potential Gershkovich prisoner swap to be “discussed in public. … They must be carried out and continue in complete silence.”

Earlier this month, U.S. Ambassador to Russia Lynne Tracy was able to meet with Gershkovich, who reported that the journalist is in “good health” and “remains resilient despite the circumstances.”

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