Earlier this week, Russia hinted that they might be open to a prison swap with the United States, which could provide some hope for a former Marine and a journalist who are both being detained in the country.
The U.S. Ambassador to Russia, Lynne Tracy, was allowed to visit Evan Gershkovich, the reporter for the Wall Street Journal, in his prison cell this week. After that happened, media members questioned Dmitry Peskov, the spokesman for the Kremlin, who dropped a hint that it could be possible for negotiations about a prison swap to take place soon.
According to an NPR report, he said:
“We have said that there have been certain contacts on the subject, but we don’t want them to be discussed in public. They must be carried out and continue in complete silence.”
Those words certainly aren’t a resounding support of a prison swap happening, but they also don’t indicate that negotiations are out of the question.
In March, the 31-year-old Gershkovich was arrested and charged with espionage while he was in Yekaterinburg. Officials with the Kremlin said at the time that the reporter was caught “red-handed” trying to spy “in the interests of the American government.”
He was accused of doing so while reporting for the WSJ on the ongoing war with Ukraine.
Right before Gershkovich was arrested, he co-penned a story for the WSJ about the Wagner Group, a paramilitary force who at the time was seen as a close ally of Russia in the war. Recently, though, Wagner’s head lead an uprising that ended only after a deal was struck before they reached Moscow.
After he was arrested, the Journal “vehemently” denied that Gershkovich was working as a spy for the American government. The publication also called for him to be immediately released from custody in Russia.
In addition to Gershkovich, the United States is interested in trying to secure the return of Paul Whelan, a former Marine who has been detained in Russia since back in 2018. He was originally arrested on charges of espionage and was sentenced to spend 16 years in a Russian prison.
While Whelan has been detained in Russia for five years now, he was recently ignored as part of the latest prisoner swap between Russia and the U.S. The lucky American who was returned to the U.S. instead was professional basketball player Brittney Griner, who was caught with illegal marijuana while she was in the country.
When Whelan was not included in that prison swap, his family said they were “devastated” by the outcome.
At the time, though, John Kirby, a high-ranking official in the Biden administration, said that the Kremlin simply wasn’t willing to include Whelan in negotiations for a prisoner swap. When the swap was announced, Kirby said:
“The only deal that the Russians were willing to put forward was Brittney Griner for Viktor Bout. Believe me, we would have liked to have both of them home today, and we have tried all kinds of different permutations and options and different sort of initiatives, proposals to get that done, but it just wasn’t possible.”