BRUSSELS (AP) — US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday he has “no doubt” that Russia wrongly detained a US reporter for The Wall Street Journal who was indicted last week on espionage charges. was arrested.
However, Blinken said that a formal determination of Ivan Gershkovich’s wrongful detention has not yet been made, something that will raise the priority of his case within the US government. Blinken said the legal process for such a determination would be completed soon.
“In Evan’s case we are working through a determination on wrongful custody. There is a process to do that,” he said. “I will let that process go by.
“There is no doubt, in my mind, that he is being unfairly detained by Russia,” Blinken told reporters.
Blinken’s comments at NATO headquarters in Brussels came just days after he urged his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, to immediately release Gershkovich as well as another imprisoned American, Paul Whelan, who was already wrongly detained. were determined to go.
Blinken made the demand in a rare phone call with Lavrov since Russia invaded Ukraine early last year.
When the US government formally designates an American as wrongfully detained, it transfers supervision of the individual’s case to a special State Department section – the Office of the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs – Which focuses on negotiating the release of prisoners.
The designation empowers the government to use a variety of tools, including diplomacy, to secure the release of a captured American rather than waiting for a criminal case to make its way through the system.
Lawyers for Gershkovich, the son of immigrants from the Soviet Union who grew up speaking Russian at home in Princeton, New Jersey, have appealed his arrest. The Journal has strongly denied the allegations and demanded his release. US officials have also called on Russia to free him, with President Joe Biden telling reporters on Friday that his message to Russia was: “Let him go.”
The FSB, Russia’s top security agency and successor to the KGB, said Gershkovich was trying to obtain classified information about a Russian arms factory. He is the first US correspondent since the Cold War to be held on espionage charges.
In its summary of Sunday’s phone call, Russia’s foreign ministry said Lavrov “drew Blinken’s attention to the need to respect the decisions of the Russian authorities” regarding Gershkovich, which Moscow claims, without evidence, “was caught red-handed.”
The Kremlin said Lavrov also told Blinken that it was unacceptable for US officials and Western news media to continue to “stir up enthusiasm” and politicize the journalist’s detention. “His further fate will be decided by the court,” Lavrov said.
The journal’s editor-in-chief, Emma Tucker, said that learning about Blinken’s call with Lavrov was “satisfying” and “reassuring” because it shows the US government is taking the matter “to the top.”
US consular officials have requested a visit with Gershkovich, but no such access has been announced. Officials said they hoped to arrange consular access soon, but could not talk about when that might happen.
Lawyers representing Gershkovich met him in a Moscow prison on Tuesday for the first time since he was taken into custody. He said “he is in good health”, according to The Journal.
Rep. Mike Turner, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said Sunday that the government has advised American citizens to leave Russia. “It’s not unexpected, because Russia is acting as an illegal state at this point. There are no laws or regulations or any international norms that they are following,” Turner, R-Ohio, told CNN’s ” State of the Union”.
Alleging that US officials and the news media are exaggerating Gershkovich’s detention, Russian officials are repeating a theme used in apprehensions of basketball star Brittany Griner and other US citizens.
The Kremlin has said it prefers to settle such cases quietly and has stressed the need to follow Russia’s judicial process. Often, this means that progress in US efforts to free its detained citizens is not likely until formal charges are filed, a trial is conducted, a sentence is obtained And the sentence and appeal are complete.
Griner, who plays for the Phoenix Mercury of the WNBA, was detained in February 2022 but was not classified as a misdemeanor by the State Department until early May. He was released in December in a prisoner exchange.
More than 30 news organizations and press freedom advocates have written to the Russian ambassador to the United States to express concern that Russia is sending the message that reporting inside the country is a crime.
Talks between top US and Russian diplomats have been rare since Russia launched its war in Ukraine in February 2022, although they did have a brief talk on the sidelines of the Group of 20 foreign ministers’ conference in India last month. This was the highest level of in-person interaction between the two countries since the start of the war.
The conversation was their first contact since last summer, when Blinken spoke to Lavrov by phone about a US offer to release Russia Griner and Whalen, a Michigan corporate security executive. Although Whelan was not included in the one-for-one swap that resulted in Griner’s release, US officials said they were committed to bringing him home.
Matthew Lee, The Associated Press