Russia’s Lavrov Hints at Possible Prisoner Swap for Evan Gershkovich and Paul Whelan

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Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, hinted on Tuesday at the possibility of a prisoner swap involving two Americans detained in Russia, Paul Whelan and the Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich.

Speaking at a wide-ranging news conference at the United Nations, Mr. Lavrov said the channel to discuss detained American and Russian citizens was created when President Biden and Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin, met in Geneva in 2021. Back then, Mr. Lavrov said, the channel did not provide “for the involvement of journalists.”

“This is work that is not public in nature and publicity here will only complicate the process,” Mr. Lavrov said at the United Nations, where Russia is wrapping up a contentious monthlong stint as president of the Security Council, a rotating position.

Mr. Lavrov said that several American citizens were serving prison sentences in Russia for various crimes, but that Mr. Whelan and Mr. Gershkovich had been detained “when they were committing a crime, receiving material” that he maintained consisted of state secrets.

Russia has provided no evidence of such charges against Mr. Gershkovich. Mr. Whelan, a former U.S. Marine, was detained minutes after he was handed a USB stick by a Russian acquaintance that Russia maintains contained a classified list of its security agents. The Biden administration has classified both men as “wrongfully detained,” tantamount to being political prisoners.

Mr. Lavrov said Russia rejected the notion that journalists did not commit crimes, apparently making reference to the phrase “journalism is not a crime” that press advocacy groups often quote in campaigns to released detained journalists around the world, like Mr. Gershkovich.

Mr. Gershkovich, who was on a reporting trip in the city of Yekaterinburg, was detained on March 29 and accused of espionage, a charge that his employer and the United States emphatically reject. He was formally charged on April 7 and remains in custody at Moscow’s Lefortovo Prison, a detention center where inmates are held in isolation and receive only rare visits from lawyers.

Mr. Whelan was detained in December 2018, then tried and convicted. He is serving a 16-year prison sentence.

The United States has agreed to prisoner swaps with Russia recently to free detained Americans — most notably for the W.N.B.A. star Brittney Griner, in December, and Trevor Reed, a former U.S. Marine, in April 2022.


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