Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday said the Biden administration is “intensely engaged” with Moscow to secure the release of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, the first American journalist to face espionage charges in Russia since the Cold War.
“We’re intensely engaged with the Russians to seek his freedom, to seek his immediate release,” Blinken told columnist David Ignatius at a World Press Freedom Day hosted by The Washington Post. “Short of that, just to get what Russia’s obligated to provide, which is consular access, which they’ve done once but have yet to repeat.”
Gershkovich, who the U.S. has declared to be wrongfully detained, was arrested by Russia’s Federal Security Service in Yekaterinburg in late March and accused of spying. Gershkovich, the Journal and the U.S. have denied the charge.
Russia blocked a request for a May 11 consular visit to Gershkovich in retaliation for the U.S. forbidding Russian journalists from joining Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on his trip to the United Nations in New York.
“Other possible retaliatory measures, about which the U.S. side will be duly notified, are being considered,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said last week.
Russia has so far granted only one consular visit to Gershkovich by U.S. Ambassador to Russia Lynne Tracy. That meeting took place last month.
Blinken said he spoke to Lavrov shortly after Gershkovich’s arrest, but not since. He added that the U.S. also maintains a channel established by President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin “some time ago” to continue working on such cases.
“We have a country in the case of Russia that like a handful of other countries around the world is wrongfully detaining people, using them as political pawns, using them as leverage in a practice that is absolutely unacceptable and that we’re working both broadly to try to deter, but also at the same time to try to secure the release of those who are being unjustly detained,” Blinken said.
Last month, a Russian judge denied Gershkovich’s request to be released from pretrial detention, meaning he will remain in confinement until at least May 29.
Blinken said a breakthrough appears, for now, far off.
“I wish I could say that in this moment there was a clear way forward,” he said. “We don’t have that in this moment, but it’s something that we’re working every single day.”
Russia on Thursday said the U.S. was “undoubtedly” behind a drone strike it said was aimed at killing Putin. The Kremlin a day earlier claimed the attack was orchestrated by Ukraine.
“I’ve seen the reports. I can’t in any way validate them. We simply don’t know,” Blinken said Wednesday of Russia’s allegations about Ukraine’s involvement. “I would take anything coming out of the Kremlin with a very large shaker of salt, so let’s see.”