Putin hints at swapping Wall Street Journal reporter for Russian prisoner

Putin hints at swapping Wall Street Journal reporter for Russian prisoner

U.S. journalist Evan Gershkovich, jailed in Russia on espionage charges, is escorted from the Lefortovsky Court building in Moscow on January 26, 2024.

Alexander Nemenov | Afp | Getty Images

Russian President Vladimir Putin said “an agreement could be reached on the release of imprisoned Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich,” signaling he was open to a swap for a Russian prisoner serving time in Germany.

Putin’s comments on Tuesday were translated by the team of former Fox News journalist Tucker Carlson, who conducted the Kremlin leader’s first interview with Western media since Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022. Putin’s views on history, the origins of the war in Ukraine, Geopolitics and artificial intelligence.

Putin did not directly demand a swap, but indirectly compared the 32-year-old Gershkovich’s case to that of a “person serving a sentence in a U.S. allied country” who “out of patriotic feelings eliminated a bandit in one of these countries.” The European capitals.

This is likely a reference to Vadim Krasikov, a Russian killer who was convicted by a German court of killing former Chechen dissident Zelimkhan Khangoshvili with multiple shots at close range in Berlin in August 2019.

In Krasikov’s indictment, German prosecutors concluded that the crime was “committed on behalf of state authorities of the Russian Federation,” according to a statement translated by Google.

“Whether he did it of his own accord or not. That’s a different question,” Putin said on Thursday about the unnamed killer.

“At the end of the day, there’s no point in keeping it [Gershkovich] in prison in Russia. We want the US intelligence community to think about how they can contribute to achieving the goals that our special services pursue. “We are ready for talks,” Putin said, repeatedly indicating that negotiations over the journalist’s future were underway.

The Journal strongly denies espionage allegations made against Gershkovich, a Russia correspondent for the newspaper, saying he was on a legitimate reporting trip in Yekaterinburg before being detained in March 2023.

Prisoner exchange

Washington and Moscow are no strangers to prisoner exchanges. In December 2022, American professional basketball player Brittney Griner, convicted of drug smuggling in Russia, was released in exchange for Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer who was arrested in Thailand and extradited to the United States

“Evan Gershkovich should never have been incarcerated in the first place. “Russia should immediately release Evan and Paul Whelan,” a U.S. State Department spokesperson told CNBC via email. Whelan is a former U.S. Marine who was imprisoned in Russia on espionage charges and sentenced to 16 years in prison in 2020.

The German Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment on whether Berlin would be open to a prisoner exchange deal.

Read more about CNBC’s politics coverage

Putin claims that Gershkovich, whose pre-trial detention was extended by two months at the end of January, was caught “in the act” of “conspiratorially” obtaining confidential intelligence information. The Russian president admitted on Thursday that he did not know which agency the journalist allegedly worked for.

“He received classified, confidential information and did so in secret. Maybe he did it out of negligence or on his own initiative,” Putin added.

The Journal has repeatedly insisted that Gershkovich did not break the law.

“Evan is a journalist, and journalism is not a crime. Any representation to the contrary is pure fiction. Evan was wrongfully arrested and has been unjustly imprisoned by Russia for almost a year for doing his job, and we continue to call for his immediate release,” the newspaper responded to Putin’s comments.

“We are encouraged to see Russia’s desire for a deal that brings Evan home, and we hope this leads to his speedy release and his return to his family and our newsroom.”

Gershkovich is not the only journalist with ties to the US to face the punitive wrath of the Kremlin judiciary. According to Reuters, a Russian court earlier this month extended the pretrial detention of Russian-American citizen Alsu Kurmasheva, a reporter for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, for violating a law on “foreign agents.”

Moscow has cracked down on journalists with a spate of wartime censorship laws introduced shortly after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Current policy criminalizes discrediting the Russian army or deliberate disinformation about the war. Several Western news agencies responded by closing their local offices and withdrawing their reporters from Russia, citing security concerns.

Correction: Russian President Vladimir Putin commented on this on Tuesday. An earlier version misstated the day.

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2024-02-09 16:12:40