The Kremlin acknowledged for the first time Tuesday that “contacts” with U.S. officials have begun over jailed Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, imprisoned since March on what the Biden administration says are bogus charges of espionage.
U.S. Ambassador to Russia Lynne Tracy was allowed to make a consular visit to the jailed journalist Monday amid speculation of a possible swap for Vladimir Dunaev, a Russian citizen in custody in Ohio on cybercrime charges.
Speaking to reporters Monday, Russian government spokesman Dmitry Peskov confirmed the discussions but declined to offer details.
“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 in a conference call with reporters. “They must be carried out and continue in complete silence.”
The reticence fits the Russian pattern — a similar swap of WNBA star Brittney Griner for Russian arms deal Viktor Bout in December was confirmed by the Kremlin only shortly before it was carried out.
Mr. Gershkovich was seized in the city of Yekaterinburg while on a reporting trip to Russia. He is being held at Moscow’s infamous Lefortovo prison and has been ordered held in custody by a Moscow court through at least Aug. 30.
He is the first accredited American journalist working in Russia to be charged with espionage since the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Nadezhda Shumova, the head of the Russian Embassy’s consular section, told the country’s official TASS news agency that Mr. Dunaev was also granted a consular visit from a Russian diplomat in recent days for the first time since his arrest in 2021 in South Korea and extradition to the U.S.
Mr. Peskov’s cryptic comments were the first indication that an actual negotiation might be underway to secure Mr. Gershkovich’s release. Roger Carstens, President Biden’s special envoy for hostage affairs, told the Aspen Ideas Forum last week that there were no talks so far on securing the reporter’s release, despite Washington’s denials that he was a spy.
“The Russians, however, have been playing a tough game,” Mr. Carstens said. “They’re not willing to really talk to us about him yet.”
The White House was also being close-lipped about any negotiations.
“While we unfortunately do not have a breakthrough to share, we continue to pursue every avenue to secure the release of Evan Gershkovich and fellow American Paul Whelan,” a U.S. official told the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday.
Mr. Whelan, an executive with a Michigan corporate security firm and an ex-U.S. Marine, is serving a 16-year sentence in Russia on a 2020 espionage conviction. Repeated efforts to arrange a prisoner swap for him have been fruitless.
Separately, Russian President Vladimir Putin made his first international appearance — by video — since the mutiny by the Wagner Group mercenary force that shook his government late last month. The Russian leader tried to project an image of strength in remarks to a virtual gathering of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a China-founded security group for Central, East and South Asian nations.
In the wake of the near-coup, Mr. Putin told SCO leaders, “The Russian people are united as never before.”
“The solidarity and responsibility for the fate of the fatherland was clearly demonstrated by the Russian political circles and the entire society by standing as a united front against the attempted armed rebellion,” he added.
He thanked SCO members for what he said was their support in the face of the Wagner Group revolt, but other leaders, including host Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India and Chinese President Xi Jinping, ignored the coup and the state of the war in Ukraine in their own remarks to the group.
• This article is based in part on wire-service reports.
𝗖𝗿𝗲𝗱𝗶𝘁𝘀, 𝗖𝗼𝗽𝘆𝗿𝗶𝗴𝗵𝘁 & 𝗖𝗼𝘂𝗿𝘁𝗲𝘀𝘆: www.washingtontimes.com
𝗙𝗼𝗿 𝗮𝗻𝘆 𝗰𝗼𝗺𝗽𝗹𝗮𝗶𝗻𝘁𝘀 𝗿𝗲𝗴𝗮𝗿𝗱𝗶𝗻𝗴 𝗗𝗠𝗖𝗔,
𝗣𝗹𝗲𝗮𝘀𝗲 𝘀𝗲𝗻𝗱 𝘂𝘀 𝗮𝗻 𝗲𝗺𝗮𝗶𝗹 𝗮𝘁 firstname.lastname@example.org