President Biden said Thursday that he is “serious” about negotiating a prisoner exchange to free Evan Gershkovich, the Wall Street Journal reporter who the United States has declared “wrongfully detained” in Russia.
“I am serious about doing everything I can to free Americans who are being held illegally in Russia — or anywhere else, for that matter,” he said. “And that process is underway.”
Mr. Biden addressed Mr. Gershkovich’s situation in a press conference with the Finnish president, Sauli Niinisto, in Helsinki.
Last week, President Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, confirmed that the United States was in talks with Russia about a possible exchange, but warned that the discussions had not yet produced a “clear path to a resolution.” This came after Kremlin spokesman Dmitri S. Peskov said the two countries were in contact about the possibility of an exchange.
Mr. Gershkovich, 31, has been held in Moscow’s high-security Lefortovo Prison since late March on espionage charges. The United States and The Wall Street Journal vehemently denied the allegations, calling the allegations false.
The journalist, who has lived in Russia for almost six years, was arrested on March 29 during a reporting trip to the central Russian city of Yekaterinburg. If convicted, he could face 20 years in a penal colony. Russian prosecutors have so far offered no evidence to support the charges.
The US considers Mr Gershkovich and Paul Whelan, a former Marine serving a 16-year sentence after being convicted in 2020 of espionage, to be “wrongfully detained” – the equivalent of being political hostages.
“Our message to Evan and Paul is this: ‘Keep the faith. We’re not going to stop until you’re home,’” the White House press secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre, told reporters last Friday, as Mr. Gershkovich’s prison term completed 100 days.
Mr. Sullivan, the national security adviser, met with the Gershkovich family that day and said the United States would “do everything possible to bring him home.”
In a brief statement, Mr Gershkovich’s family said the support he had received from around the world had been “overwhelming”. “Every day that Evan is not home is another day too many,” the family said.
Earlier this month, Lynne M. Tracy, the US ambassador to Russia. visited Mr. Gershkovich in prison and said he was in “good health” and remained “strong, despite his circumstances.”