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One year after Evan Gershkovich’s arrest in Russia, Biden pledges to ‘continue working every day’ for his release

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Washington — President Biden pledged Friday to “continue working every day” to secure the release of the Wall Street Journal journalist. Evan Gershkovitch of detention in Russia, while the duration of the American journalist’s imprisonment in Russia has reached the milestone of one year.

“We will continue to denounce and impose costs for Russia’s appalling attempts to use Americans as bargaining chips,” Mr. Biden said in a statement released Friday that also mentioned the case of Paul Whelananother American citizen detained in Russia since 2018.

Gershkovich — that the US State Department considered “wrongfully detained” shortly after his arrest – is still awaiting a trial on espionage charges that the White House, his family and his employer all insist is fabricated, but which could still see him sentenced to decades in prison.

The American-born son of Soviet émigrés covered Russia for six years as the Kremlin made independent reporting on the ground increasingly dangerous and illegal.

TOPSHOT-RUSSIA-US-JOURNALIST
Journalist Evan Gershkovich, arrested on espionage charges, stands in a cage before a hearing to consider an appeal over his arrest at Moscow City Court, April 18, 2023.

NATALIA KOLESNIKOVA/AFP/Getty


His arrest in March 2023 on espionage charges – the first such charge against a Western journalist since the Soviet era – showed that the Kremlin was prepared to go further than ever in what President Vladimir Putin has called “hybrid warfare.” » with the West. .

The Journal and the U.S. government dismiss the spying allegations as a false pretext to keep Gershkovich in prison, likely to use him as a bargaining chip in a future prisoner exchange deal.

Putin said last month he would like to see Gershkovich released as part of a prisoner exchange, but the Biden administration said Moscow had rejected the latest exchange offer presented to it.

The 32-year-old man, who was held in detention until at least the end of June, faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

The Gershkovich family said in a letter published Friday by The Wall Street Journal that they would continue their campaign for his release.

“We never anticipated this situation happening to our son and brother, let alone a full year without certainty or a clear path forward,” they said. “But despite this long battle, we remain strong.”

Gershkovich reported at length on how ordinary Russians experienced the situation. Ukrainian conflict, addressing the families of dead soldiers and critics of Putin. It was increasingly difficult to tell stories and get people talking, Gershkovich told friends before his arrest.

But as long as it wasn’t impossible, he saw a reason to be there.


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“He knew from some of the stories that he was being followed everywhere and that people he spoke to would be pressured not to speak to him,” Guardian correspondent Pjotr ​​Sauer told AFP. a close friend. “But he was accredited by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I don’t think any of us would see the Russians going so far as to accuse him of this false espionage.”

Speaking to CBS News’ Leslie Stahl last week, the reporter’s sister, Danielle, said the family back in the United States was still worried, despite Gershkovich’s repeated assurances about his accreditation, which he believed would keep her safe, as she always has.

But as Stahl reported, what was unprecedented in Russia has become almost routine under Putin. Gershkovich is just the latest American to inadvertently become a pawn in Putin’s geopolitical chessboard against the West.

Whelana US Marine veteran, has been imprisoned in Russia for five years. Russian-American ballerina Ksenia Karelina was arrested in January on charges of treason for helping Ukraine. And basketball star Brittney Grinerimprisoned for nine months for drug trafficking, was eventually released in exchange for a notorious arms dealer known as the “Merchant of Death.”

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