US exploring multicountry prisoner swap with Russia to free WSJ reporter Evan Gershkovich

The US is looking to use Russian prisoners held in other countries as bargaining chips in its quest to free Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich and other Americans detained by the Kremlin, according to a report.

The State Department told the WSJ Thursday that a prisoner exchange with Russia would be the most realistic path for the US to broker the freedom of the wrongfully detained journalist, as well as for Paul Whelan, a Michigan corporate security executive held in Moscow for more than four years.

“Given the work ongoing to secure Paul and Evan’s release, we will not offer specific details of the negotiation process,” a spokesperson told the outlet Thursday.

“But more broadly, we regularly engage partners around the world to discuss wrongful detention cases and in some cases to seek assistance in effecting a release.”

Though American officials typically offer concessions for the release of its civilians, Russia has reportedly made it clear that it is interested in a balanced exchange of prisoners.

After exchanging notorious Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout for WNBA Britney Griner in December, the US has been seemingly left without a comparable trading candidate for Gershkovich and Whelan.

Officials have been looking toward other nations holding Russian citizens in custody who might be incorporated into a bargaining pact.

Moscow has expressed interest in brokering a deal to regain Vadim Krasikov, a Russian 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.

Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich stands in a glass cage in a courtroom at the Moscow City Court, in Moscow, Russia.
Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich has been wrongfully detained in Russia since late March.

Alleged Russian spies have also been arrested in Slovenia and Brazil in recent months.

A senior administration official floated the bartering idea shortly after Gershkovich was arrested while on assignment in the city of Yekaterinburg in late March.

“Within the bounds of the rule of law and then within presidential approval policy, we’re open to exploring different types of leverage,” the official said at the time.

Gershkovich, who has reported on Russia for six years, was accused of gathering information classified as a state secret about a military factory, an offense punishable by up to 20 years in prison.

Paul Whelan, a former U.S. Marine who was arrested for alleged spying, listens to the verdict in a courtroom at the Moscow City Court in Moscow, Russia, June 15, 2020.
Former Marine Paul Whelan has been serving a 16-year sentence in Russia since his 2018 arrest.

The State Department determined that Gershkovich has been “wrongfully detained” by Russia, a move that allows the US greater ability to monitor intelligence and push for regular consular access.

The US has also ruled that Whelan, a former Marine, is being wrongfully held on a 16-year sentence for espionage.

Whelan said last year he was “disappointed” he had not been rescued by US authorities, particularly after officials scrambled to free Griner from the 10 months she was held captive for marijuana charges.

“I was arrested for a crime that never occurred,” Whelan said at the time. “I don’t understand why I’m still sitting here.”

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𝗖𝗿𝗲𝗱𝗶𝘁𝘀, 𝗖𝗼𝗽𝘆𝗿𝗶𝗴𝗵𝘁 & 𝗖𝗼𝘂𝗿𝘁𝗲𝘀𝘆:
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