Russia Hints at Prisoner Swap To Free Detained WSJ Reporter

July 5, 2023

A Kremlin spokesman hinted at another prisoner swap with the United States in a press briefing Tuesday, appearing to reference detained Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich.

Dmitry Peskov, press secretary for Russian president Vladimir Putin, said at the briefing "there are certain contacts" related to a possible prisoner exchange, and that discussions "must continue in complete silence." Gershkovich was arrested by Russia in March on charges of espionage that he denies. The United States considers Gershkovich "wrongfully detained," which obligates the government to seek his release.

The statement comes six months after the White House secured the release of WNBA star Brittney Griner after the player was arrested for attempting to bring vape cartridges with cannabis oil into the country. In exchange for Griner, Russia received Viktor Bout, known also as the "Merchant of Death" and described as "one of the most dangerous men on earth" by Michael Braun, former chief of operations for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. Bout was sentenced to prison by the United States in 2011 for attempting to sell arms to Colombian terrorists to use against American troops.

While Griner walked free, former Marine Paul Whelan was left in Russia to begin his fifth year in Russian prison. Whelan was arrested in 2018 on espionage charges and has since been sentenced to 16 years in a labor camp.

A White House official said Tuesday, "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."

Published under: Russia