July 5, 2023
On Tuesday, July 4—one day after U.S. Ambassador to Russia Lynne M. Tracy visited jailed Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich at Lefortovo Prison in Moscow for the first time since April—the Kremlin indicated that it would entertain discussions with the United States about a possible prisoner exchange involving Gershkovich, reports USA Today.
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters that Moscow and Washington have had “certain contacts” about a potential prisoner swap involving Gershkovich and Vladimir Dunaev, a Russian national held in pre-trial detention in Ohio on federal cybercrime charges.
Hours after Tracy visited Gershkovich on Monday, the Russian Embassy in Washington said members of its staff were granted access to meet with Dunaev. The timing of the two visits raised questions about whether negotiations between the two countries are currently underway, but Peskov said any conversations between American and Russian officials should be kept private.
“We have said that there have been certain contacts on the subject, but we don’t want them to be discussed in public,” Peskov said. “They must be carried out and continue in complete silence.”
Gershkovich, 31, has been jailed since late March when authorities detained him on espionage charges during a reporting trip to the Russian city of Yekaterinburg. Gershkovich was later transferred to Moscow’s high-security Lefortovo Prison in Moscow—a jail notorious for its difficult conditions and extreme isolation for inmates.
Gershkovich, The Wall Street Journal, and the U.S. government deny the allegations of espionage. The State Department determined in April that Gershkovich was “wrongfully detained” and condemned Russia for jailing a journalist.
A Moscow court last month denied an appeal from Gershkovich’s lawyers to end his pre-trial detention, which was extended until August 30. Russian authorities have previously stated that no prisoner swap involving Gershkovich could occur until a court reaches a verdict in his case.
The most recent high profile prisoner exchange between Russia and the United States occurred in December, when WNBA star Brittney Griner was swapped for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout. Griner was detained ten months earlier on drug charges for possessing hashish oil.
The State Department has also determined that Paul Whelan, a former U.S. marine, was wrongfully detained by Russia. Whelan was detained in Russia in late 2018 on espionage charges and is also being held in Moscow’s Lefortovo Prison.
Research contact: @USATODAY