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Putin says he wants "to reach an agreement" to return WSJ reporter Evan Gershkovich

​​​​​​​Lynne Tracy, the U.S. ambassador to Russia said the U.S. will keep fighting for the journalist’s release

Russian prison
Russian prison | Shutterstock

December 15, 2023 9:12am

Updated: December 15, 2023 9:12am

Russian leader Vladimir Putin said that Russia wants “to reach an agreement” to return of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, the newspaper reported on Thursday.

The WSJ reporter was taken into custody on March 29 by Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB).while he was on a reporting assignment in the Russian city of Yekaterinburg.

Gershkovich was accredited to work as a reported by Russia’s Foreign Ministry At the time he was arrested, The 32-year-old journalist has been held in Moscow’s Lefortovo Prison since then.

The new development stems from a Thursday press conference in which Putin was asked about the recent Biden administration statement that the Russian government rejected its offer to negotiate the release of Gershkovich and former U.S. Marine and Michigan corporate-security executive Paul Whelan, who has been detained by Russia on Dec. 28, 2018.

“It is not that we have refused to return them,” said Putin. “We want to reach an agreement, and these agreements must be mutually acceptable and must suit both sides. We have contacts with our American partners in this regard, and there is an ongoing dialogue.”

Putin added that, “It is not easy. I will not go into details, but in general it seems to me that we are speaking a language that we both understand. I hope that we will find a solution.”

Whelan is also an American citizen who is from Michigan. He was charged with espionage after meeting with a Russian contact in Moscow who promised to give him some tourism photographs on a USB drive.

Instead, Russian intelligence showed up at Whelan’s hotel and is now serving a 16-year sentence for an espionage conviction that he and the U.S. say is the result of trumped-up charges and entrapment.

For Gershkovich’s part, a Russian court upheld his incarceration on Thursday, a ruling that will keep him detained at least through January 2024.

The hearing was an appeal from last month’s ruling that granted a request from the FSB to prolong his detention. The Wall Street Journal reporter has now spent 10 months in a Russian cell.

President Biden promised to continue pushing for Gershkovich’s freedom shortly after the Kremlin rejected a White House offer to negotiate the release of both Gershkovich and Whelan.

“Evan Gershkovich appeared in a Moscow City court today, where an appeal of the recent extension of his pre-trial detention was denied once again,” the Journal said in a statement. “While we expected this outcome, it’s important that we appeal these rulings to call out the absurd nature of the charge.”

The statement reiterated that Gershkovich’s innocence.

“Evan has been wrongfully detained for more than 250 days for simply doing his job as a journalist, and any portrayal to the contrary is fiction. We will stand with Evan and his family for as long as it takes and continue to demand his immediate release.”

According to the Journal, the White House made an offer to orchestrate an exchange of Russian prisoners in hopes of seeing the two Americans come home.

This may include a multinational deal that involves Washington negotiating the release of Russian prisoners in foreign countries.

Russian officials have said such a deal is possible but want to wait to see the outcome of a trial for Gershkovich.

Gershkovich is the first American reporter to be charged with espionage in Russia since the end of the Cold War. His arrest comes a decade after U.S. journalist David Satter was expelled by Putin’s United Russia regime in 2014 and British journalist Luke Harding’s expulsion in 2011.

The U.S. has designated both Gershkovich and Whelan as wrongfully detained.

According to the Journal, Gershkovich’s lawyer is trying to transfer her client to form of house arrest on bail.

Lynne Tracy, U.S. ambassador to Russia, spoke out in front of the Russian courthouse on behalf of the Wall Street Journal reporter.

“Evan’s ordeal has now stretched on for over 250 days,” she said “The U.S. government will continue to advocate for Evan’s immediate release and the release of all wrongfully detained American citizens overseas.”