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Russia rejects U.S. prisoner swap offer for jailed WSJ reporter

The plan was aimed at securing the release of reporter Evan Gershkovich and American contractor Paul Whelan.

The plan was aimed at securing the release of reporter Evan Gershkovich and American contractor Paul Whelan.

Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich appears at a hearing in a Russian courtroom on Tuesday, April 18, 2023. (Photo via social media)
Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich appears at a hearing in a Russian courtroom on Tuesday, April 18, 2023. (Photo via social media)

Government officials in Russia recently turned down an offer from their American counterparts that was aimed at securing the freedom of a jailed Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reporter there, according to a new report published on Tuesday.

The deal would have seen the United States trading an unspecified number of prisoners with Russia, to include WSJ reporter Evan Gershkovich, who has been detained on espionage charges for more than 250 days.

The precise number of prisoners that would have been exchanged was not clear, nor was it known who else would have benefitted from the deal beyond Gershkovich and another dtained American, Paul Whelan. The plan was first revealed in a WSJ news article published Tuesday evening and later confirmed by officials at the U.S. State Department.

“In recent weeks, we made a new and significant proposal to secure Paul and Evan’s release,” Matthew Miller, a spokesperson for the State Department, said in a statement. “That proposal was ultimately rejected by Russia.”

Gershkovich was detained by Russian authorities earlier this month on allegations of espionage. Officials in Russia have not provided any evidence to substantiate their claims, yet a magistrate there has repeatedly upheld his detention before trial.

Executives at the WSJ deny Gershkovich engaged in any espionage, and said the reporter was covering Russia’s ongoing military conflict with neighboring Ukraine at the time of his arrest.

“The passage of time dictates that we work harder than ever to sustain our efforts until Evan is free,” Almar Latour, the chief executive of Dow Jones & Company, the parent subsidiary of the WSJ, said in a statement.

In April, officials at the State Department classified Gershkovich as a “wrongfully detained” American, and said they were working to secure his release.

Gershkovich has been allowed to visit with a lawyer retained by the newspaper, and has been in communication with family members and friends throughout his detention.

Likewise, U.S. government officials say they have been in touch with neutral countries who might be able to help coordinate the release of Gershkovich and Whelan, though it was not clear if formal discussions have been held with another country acting as an intermediary.

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is a nationally-recognized, award-winning journalist who has covered the business of media, technology, radio and television for more than 11 years. He is the publisher of The Desk and contributes to Know Techie, Digital Content Next and StreamTV Insider. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, the Walt Disney Company, McNaughton Newspapers and Tribune Broadcasting.
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