US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Sunday urged the release of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, who Russia accuses of spying, in a call on with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Reuters reported.
Russia’s FSB security service said on Thursday (March 30) it had arrested Gershkovich, accusing him of gathering information about a Russian defense company that was a state secret.
According to Reuters report, the Wall Street Journal has denied Gershkovich was spying. The White House has called the espionage charge, which carries a jail term of up to 20 years, “ridiculous.”
According to Russia’s Foreign Ministry, Lavrov told Blinken it was unacceptable for Washington to politicize the case, adding that Gershkovich’s fate would be determined by a court. He reiterated Russia’s assertion, for which it has not presented any evidence, that the journalist was “caught red-handed” last week.
Direct conversations between Blinken and Lavrov have been rare since Russia’s Feb. 24, 2022, invasion of Ukraine. The two spoke face-to-face for the first time since the invasion on the sidelines of a wider March 2 meeting in New Delhi.
At a closed hearing on Thursday, Gershkovich was placed in pre-trial detention until May 29 at Moscow’s Lefortovo prison.
Many Western and some Russian analysts suggested the arrest was a move by Moscow to secure a bargaining chip with Washington, four months after a high-profile prisoner swap where it traded U.S. basketball star Brittney Griner for convicted Russian arms trafficker Viktor Bout. Griner has urged the Biden administration to use “every tool possible” to free Gershkovich.