BRUSSELS (AP) — US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday that he has “no doubt” that Russia wrongfully detained an American reporter for The Wall Street Journal who was arrested last week on accusations of espionage.
However, Blinken said a formal determination of Evan Gershkovich’s wrongful detention has not yet been made, something that would elevate 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 on the wrongful detention determination. There is a process to do that,” he said. “I’ll let that process unfold.
“In my opinion, there is no question that Russia is unfairly detaining him,” Blinken told reporters.
Blinken’s comments at NATO headquarters in Brussels came just days after he directly urged his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, to immediately release Gershkovich and another jailed American, Paul Whelan, who had already been determined to have been wrongfully detained.
Blinken made that demand in what was a rare phone call with Lavrov from Russia invaded Ukraine beginning of last year.
When the US government formally designates an American as wrongfully detained, it shifts oversight of the person’s case to a specialized section of the State Department, the Office of the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs, which focuses on negotiating the release of captives.
The designation empowers the government to use a variety of tools, including diplomacy, to secure the release of a captured American rather than simply waiting for a criminal case to work its way through the system.
Lawyers for Gershkovich, the son of immigrants from the Soviet Union who grew up speaking Russian at his 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 release him, and President Joe Biden told reporters on Friday that his message to Russia was: “I let it go.”
The FSB, Russia’s main 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 to be detained on espionage charges since the Cold War.
In its summary of the phone call on Sunday, the Russian Foreign Ministry said Lavrov “drew Blinken’s attention to the need to respect the decisions of the Russian authorities” about Gershkovich, who, according to Moscow, without evidence, ” He was caught red-handed.”
The Kremlin said Lavrov also told Blinken that it was unacceptable for US officials and Western media to continue to “provoke excitement” and politicize the journalist’s detention. “His future fate of him will be determined by the court,” Lavrov said.
Emma Tucker, the Journal’s editor-in-chief, said it was “gratifying” and “reassuring” to learn of Blinken’s call with Lavrov because it shows the US government is taking the case “to the brim.”
US consular officials have requested a visit to Gershkovich, but no announcement of such access has been made. Officials said they were hopeful that consular access could be arranged soon, but could not speak on when that might happen.
Lawyers representing Gershkovich met with him in a Moscow prison on Tuesday for the first time since his arrest. They said “his health is good,” according to The Journal.
Rep. Mike Turner, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, noted Sunday that the The government has advised American citizens to leave Russia.. “This is not unexpected, since Russia is acting like an illegal state at the moment. There are no international laws, rules or standards that they are following,” Turner, R-Ohio, told CNN’s “State of the Union.”
By claiming that US officials and the media are exaggerating Gershkovich’s arrest, Russian officials are picking up on a theme they used in the arrests of basketball star Brittney Griner and other US citizens.
The Kremlin has said it prefers to resolve these cases quietly and has stressed the need to follow Russia’s judicial process. Often, that means that the possibility of progress in US efforts to release its detained citizens is not likely until formal charges are filed, a trial is held, a conviction is obtained, and sentences and sentences are completed. appeals.
Griner, who plays for the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury, was detained in February 2022, but was not classified by the State Department as improperly held until early May. she 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 within the country is criminalized.
Interactions between top US and Russian diplomats have been rare since Russia began his war in ukraine in February 2022, although they had a brief conversation last month on the sidelines of the Group of 20 foreign ministers’ conference in India. It was the highest-level in-person conversation between the two countries since the war began.
That interaction was their first contact since last summer, when Blinken spoke by phone with Lavrov about a US proposal that Russia release Griner and Whelan, a corporate security executive from Michigan. Although Whelan was not included In the one-for-one exchange that resulted in Griner’s release, US officials said they remained committed to bringing him home.