US Ambassador Met With Evan Gershkovich in Russia as Negotiations Evolve

Wim De Gent
By Wim De Gent
April 20, 2024US News
US Ambassador Met With Evan Gershkovich in Russia as Negotiations Evolve
Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich stands inside an enclosure for defendants before a court hearing to consider an appeal against his pre-trial detention on espionage charges in Moscow, Russia, on Oct. 10, 2023. (Evgenia Novozhenina/Reuters)

The U.S. ambassador to Russia recently met with Evan Gershkovich, the Wall Street Journal reporter who has been detained in the country for more than a year.

In a message posted on X, formerly Twitter, the U.S. Embassy in Moscow announced that ambassador Lynne Tracy met with Mr. Gershkovich, who was arrested on espionage charges by the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) in March last year.

“Despite the continued wait for the start of his trial, Evan remains in good spirits, buoyed by the continued messages of support,” the embassy said.

Mr. Gershkovich was arrested on March 29, 2023, in Yekaterinburg in the Ural Mountains, roughly 900 miles east of Moscow, while allegedly reporting on the Wagner mercenary group.

He is currently being held at Lefortovo Prison, a former KGB prison in Moscow, awaiting his trial.

“It was established that Evan Gershkovich, acting at the request of the American side, collected information constituting a state secret about the activities of one of the enterprises of the Russian military-industrial complex,” was the official FSB statement at the time of the arrest.

Mr. Gershkovich and his employer, The Wall Street Journal, have vehemently rejected the allegations against him. The U.S. government has called the charges baseless and designated the reporter as “wrongfully detained” in April 2023.

If convicted of espionage, Mr. Gershkovich faces up to 20 years in prison.

Diplomatic Negotiations

Negotiations to release the American prisoner began soon after his arrest.

The U.S. ambassador met with Mr. Gershkovich for the first time in mid-April 2023.

A second meeting occurred in July. The State Department then reported, “Mr. Gershkovich is in good health and remains strong, despite his circumstances.”

On July 4, 2023, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov mentioned that Russia would be open to exchanging Mr. Gershkovich for Vladimir Dunaev, a Russian citizen who is facing charges in the United States for alleged cybercrimes.

“We have said that there have been certain contacts on the subject, but we don’t want them to be discussed in public,” Mr. Peskov said.

NTD Photo
U.S. Ambassador to Russia Lynne Tracy (L) enters the Moscow City Court to attend hearing on Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich’s case in Moscow on March 26, 2024. (Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP Photo)

In September, Ms. Tracy met with Mr. Gershkovich for a third time.

A few months later, in December, the State Department announced that a “significant proposal” to secure the release of two “wrongfully detained” Americans, Mr. Gershkovich and Paul Whelan—a former U.S. Marine serving a 16-year sentence on espionage charges—had been rejected by Russia.

Prisoner Swap Impending?

During a February interview with Tucker Carlson, Russian President Vladimir Putin said he believed an agreement could be reached, when the former Fox News host brought up the issue of releasing Mr. Gershkovich.

“We have done so many gestures of goodwill out of decency that I think we have run out of them,” Mr. Putin answered. “We have never seen anyone reciprocate to us in a similar manner, however in theory, we can say that we do not rule out that we can do that if our partners take reciprocal steps.”

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin gives an interview to U.S. talk show host Tucker Carlson (L) at the Kremlin in Moscow on Feb. 6, 2024. (Gavriil Grigorov/Pool/AFP via Getty Images)

When Mr. Carlson argued that Mr. Gershkovich was “obviously not a spy,” and “just a kid,” the Russian president replied that the allegations against Mr. Gershkovich were legitimate.

However, the Russian president added, “There is no taboo to settle this issue. We are willing to solve it. But certain terms are being discussed.”

Without dropping any names, Mr. Putin then hinted that the swap could involve Vadim Krasikov, a 56-year-old FSB colonel currently serving a life sentence in a German jail for the murder of Zelimkhan Khangoshvili, a Chechen war veteran designated a terrorist by the FSB.

“I do not rule out that the person you refer to, Mr. Gershkovich, may return to his motherland,” Mr. Putin told Mr. Carlson.

“At the end of the day, it does not make sense to keep him in prison in Russia.”

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