Antony Blinken Calls Russian Counterpart, Demands Release of Wall Street Journal Reporter Evan Gershkovich

(AP Photo/Lee Jin-man, File)

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has been in contact with his counterpart in the Russian government and demanded the release of U.S. citizen and Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, according to multiple reports.

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That call, which was made to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, expressed “grave concern” over the arrest of Gershkovich, as well as the continued detention of another U.S. citizen, Paul Whelan. Whelan has been held by the Russians since December 2018, when he was arrested while visiting for a friend’s wedding.

However, Lavrov has pushed back, saying that America needs “to respect the decisions of the Russian authorities,” according to the Wall Street Journal.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that “attention was drawn to the need to respect the decisions of the Russian authorities, taken in accordance with the law and international obligations of the Russian Federation.”

The ministry said that the Russians emphasized that “it is unacceptable for officials in Washington and the Western media to whip up a stir with the clear intention of giving this case a political coloring.”

The Foreign Ministry said that the U.S. Embassy in Moscow was notified of Mr. Gershkovich’s detention “in accordance with established procedures.”

Little is known about the charges behind the arrest of Gershkovich. In a statement released late last week, Russia’s FSB released a statement, though little evidence behind the allegations is available.

“The Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation stopped the illegal activities of the correspondent of the Moscow bureau of the American newspaper The Wall Street Journal, Evan Gershkovich, born in 1991, who is suspected of spying for the American government,” the FSB said in its statement at the time. “It was established that Gershkovich, acting at the request of the American side, collected information constituting a state secret about the activities of an enterprise of the Russian military-industrial complex. The foreign national was detained in Yekaterinburg while attempting to obtain classified information.”

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The Wall Street Journal has been adamantly demanding the release of Gershkovich, a demand which was reiterated on Saturday.

Shortly after the arrest, high-ranking Russian officials endorsed the allegations, according to the Washington Post, which sped the legal process up in Russia considerably.

Wall Street Journal Editor-in-Chief Emma Tucker said on CBS News Sunday morning that “The fact that Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke to his counterpart today is hugely reassuring to us.”

“We know the U.S. government is taking this very seriously right up to the top, and as I say, that for us has been gratifying to know that they take it as seriously as they do,” she added.

“Evan is a very talented, experienced reporter,” Tucker also noted. “He’s accredited to report from Russia and he was on an assignment doing what he always does—he was gathering information, he was reporting from the ground to provide our readers with eye-witness accounts of what it’s like to be in Russia at the moment. It’s a complete outrage that he was arrested like this and what the Russian authorities are saying is utter nonsense.”

Gershkovich’s condition is unknown, and the U.S. appears to be initiating a series of steps to determine his condition, the Wall Street Journal also noted Sunday morning, but the Russian government is not giving him up easily.

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A consular visit is typically the first in a series of steps the U.S. government undertakes to determine the welfare of a U.S. citizen. It is also a first step in designating whether an American overseas is wrongfully detained, a finding that commits the U.S. government to securing his or her release and dedicates government resources to the effort.

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On Sunday, the Russian Foreign Ministry said Mr. Gershkovich was “caught red-handed while trying to obtain secret information, collecting data constituting a state secret under the guise of a journalistic status.”

“In the light of the established facts of the illegal activities of the U.S. citizen…his further fate will be determined by the court,” it said.

Whelan, meanwhile, is being forced to serve out a 16-year sentence on espionage charges, which his family has long claimed are bogus.

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