Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Putin signals he’s open to prisoner swap for Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich’s release

Washington — Russian President Vladimir Putin said “an agreement can be reached” with the U.S. to release Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, who has been detained for nearly one year on unsubstantiated espionage charges. 

Putin was asked by former Fox News commentator Tucker Carlson in an interview this week if he would release Gershkovich, who is awaiting trial, so that Carlson could bring him back to the U.S. 

Putin insisted he wanted to see the journalist return to the U.S., but said the Kremlin expects something in return. 

“We have done so many gestures of goodwill out of decency that I think we have run out of them,” Putin said, adding that he was looking for the U.S. to “take reciprocal steps.” 

Without saying a name, Putin implied that he wanted Russian assassin Vadim Krasikov in exchange for Gershkovich. Krasikov is serving a life sentence in Germany for murdering a former Chechen fighter in Berlin park in 2019. 

The State Department said in early December it made a “new and significant” proposal to Russia for the release of Gershkovich and Paul Whelan, an American businessman who is serving a 20-year prison sentence for espionage charges that he and his family vehemently deny. The U.S. considers both Gershkovich and Whelan to be wrongfully detained

“That proposal was rejected by Russia,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said on Dec. 5. 

Putin acknowledged in his end-of-year news conference that there were discussions between the Kremlin and Washington, but said the U.S. has not made a satisfactory offer. 

In response, Miller said the U.S. had “put multiple offers on the table.”

“So far we have seen them refuse to take us up on our proposals and we hope that they will change the way they’ve handled this going forward,” Miller said on Dec. 14. 

Putin told Carlson that “there is an ongoing dialogue” between U.S. and Russian special services and such talks have been successful in the past. 

“Probably this is going to be crowned with success as well,” Putin said. “But we have to come to an agreement.”

There have been two prisoner swaps between the U.S. and Russia in recent years to secure the release of Marine veteran Trevor Reed and WNBA star Brittney Griner, who the U.S. also considered to be wrongfully detained in Russia. 

“I do not rule out that the person you refer to, Mr. Gershkovich, may return to his motherland,” Putin said. “But at the end of the day, it does not make sense to keep him in prison in Russia. We want the U.S. special services to think about how they can contribute to achieving the goals our special services are pursuing.” 

The White House said in January that President Biden has been “personally engaged” in the efforts to secure the release of Americans who are held hostage and wrongfully detained abroad, including Gershkovich and Whelan. 

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