Following the arrest of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, U.S. officials communicated with their counterparts in Russia on Sunday in an unsuccessful attempt to secure his release.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressed his “grave concern” over the detainment of Gershkovich to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on April 2 after the reporter was arrested on suspicion of espionage activities by Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) at the end of March. Calling Gershkovich’s arrest “unacceptable,” Blinken demanded the journalist’s “immediate release,” The Wall Street Journal reported.
I spoke with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov today to convey our grave concern over Russia’s unacceptable detention of a U.S. citizen journalist. I called for his release and for the release of wrongfully detained U.S. citizen Paul Whelan.
— Secretary Antony Blinken (@SecBlinken) April 2, 2023
Russian officials deny the arrest was arbitrary, maintaining Gershkovich was caught gathering classified information about a Russian defense company while in the city of Yekaterinburg. Lavrov accused Blinken and the Western media of politicizing the case, calling such interference “unacceptable.”
“Blinken’s attention was drawn to the need to respect the decisions of the Russian authorities, taken in accordance with the law and international obligations of the Russian Federation,” the Russian foreign ministry said, according to Reuters. The Russian foreign ministry added that officials within the U.S. Embassy in Moscow were notified of Gershkovich’s arrest “in accordance with established procedures,” The Wall Street Journal reported.
While the conversation did not secure Gershkovich’s release, the mere fact that communication regarding the reporter’s release was welcome news to his peers at The Wall Street Journal.
“The fact that Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke to his counterpart today is hugely reassuring to us,” Wall Street Journal Editor in Chief Emma Tucker said Sunday on CBS News. “We know the U.S. government is taking this very seriously right up to the top, and as I say, that for us has been gratifying to know that they take it as seriously as they do.”
In addition to Gershkovich, Blinken demanded the immediate release of former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan who has been detained in Russia on espionage charges since 2018 when he traveled to the country for a friend’s wedding, the outlet reported. Whelan was convicted and sentenced to 16 years in a Russian penal colony, but has repeatedly urged the U.S. government to do more to secure his release. (RELATED: ‘Paul Was Never In The Mix’: Biden Official Says Whelan Had No Chance Of Being Released)
Detained for almost four years, Whelan stated in 2022, “I would say that if a message could go to President Biden, that, you know, this is a precarious situation that needs to be resolved quickly. And I would hope that he and his administration would do everything they could to get me home regardless of the price they may have to pay at this point.”