Putin opens door for solution to detention of Evan Gershkovich and Paul Whelan

Moscow, Russia - Russian President Vladimir Putin said Thursday he wanted Moscow and Washington to arrive at a solution to secure the release of two high-profile Americans held on espionage charges.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (l.) said he was open to negotiating with the US for the release of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich and other detained Americans.
Russian President Vladimir Putin (l.) said he was open to negotiating with the US for the release of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich and other detained Americans.  © Collage: via REUTERS

Putin was responding to a question from reporters during an end-of-year press conference, referring to detained Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich and former US marine Paul Whelan.

"There are contacts on this issue and dialogue is ongoing, but it's not straightforward," he said.

"I hope we will find a solution. But the US side should also hear us and make a decision that will suit the Russian Federation."

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His comments came just after a court in Moscow ruled that Gershkovich, arrested in March, be held in detention until January 30.

The 32-year-old journalist, his employer, and the US government have all rejected the spying allegations.

Gershkovich was arrested during a reporting trip at the end of March in the Urals city of Yekaterinburg, becoming the first Western reporter to be held on spying charges in Russia since the Soviet era.

He faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

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Ex-US Marine Paul Whelan is serving a 16-year sentence in Russia on charges of spying, which he and the US government deny.
Ex-US Marine Paul Whelan is serving a 16-year sentence in Russia on charges of spying, which he and the US government deny.  © REUTERS

The US ambassador in Russia, Lynne Tracy, on Thursday called on Moscow to release Gershkovich and said it was "unacceptable that Russian authorities have chosen to use him as a political pawn."

Whelan was working in security for a US vehicle parts company when he was arrested in Moscow in 2018, and he has always asserted that spying evidence against him was falsified.

The 53-year-old is serving a 16-year sentence that the US government says is without merit.

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"As the holidays approach, our thoughts are with Evan and Paul Whelan, as well as their families, friends, and colleagues," Tracy said.

"Both of these men deserve to be at home with their families. As my government has said countless times, the charges against Evan and Paul are baseless."

Russia this month also brought fresh charges against US-Russian dual citizen Alsu Kurmasheva, arrested in the central city of Kazan in October and charged with failing to register as a "foreign agent."

Her employer Radio Free Europe/Liberty this week denounced the fresh charges filed against her after reports she has also been accused of violating rules against criticism of the Ukraine campaign.

Cover photo: Collage: via REUTERS

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