Administration

Biden envoy on reporter detained in Russia: ‘We know Evan’s not a spy’

The Biden administration’s special presidential envoy for hostage affairs on Wednesday affirmed the innocence of the U.S. reporter who was detained in Russia last month on allegations of spying. 

Roger Carstens said during an interview on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on Wednesday that U.S. officials have received reports that Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich is in “good health” and “good spirits.” But he said U.S. officials want to be allowed to meet with him so they can see for themselves.

“The most important thing is we know Evan’s not a spy. He never was a spy. He’s never worked for the U.S. government. He’s a journalist who works for The Wall Street Journal. And as the president and secretary said, ‘Journalism’s not a crime,’” Carstens said. 

The State Department officially designated Gershkovich as “wrongfully detained” in Russia on Monday. Both the administration and the Journal have rejected claims from Russian authorities that Gershkovich was spying for the U.S. government and have called for him to be immediately released. 

Russian officials have alleged that Gershkovich was trying to gain access to classified information in Yekaterinburg, where he was arrested. He was formally charged with espionage on Friday. 

Gershkovich could face up to 20 years in prison if convicted of espionage. Russia’s criminal justice system has been internationally derided for its lack of fairness, as more than 99 percent of all defendants are convicted in often flawed trials.

Although the journalist’s arrest comes at a low-point for U.S.-Russia relations amid the Ukraine war, Carstens said the U.S. government has been able to “find ways to bring Americans home” from being held abroad even if the U.S. does not have a strong relationship with that country. 

“We will find a way to do it. There are ways to do it and progress, and you have a good team,” he said. 

The U.S. was able to secure the release of WNBA star Brittney Griner from a Russian jail after she was detained for almost 10 months. She was freed in exchange for Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer who had been serving a 20–25-year prison sentence since 2012.

Carstens said the State Department is partnering with lawmakers, non-governmental organizations and the Gershkovich family to bring Evan back to the U.S. 

Carstens also said a “significant offer” has been made to Russia for Paul Whelan, a former U.S. Marine who has been held in Russia since 2018 on charges of spying, to be freed and returned home. 

He added that the determination of Gershkovich being wrongfully detained allows the government to go all out in pushing for his release.

“We’re able now to cobble together all elements of the United States national government, the national power that this nation can bring to bear and working closely with the National Security Council, we’ll find a way and a path to bring both Paul Whelan and Evan home,” Carstens said. 

Tags espionage Evan Gershkovich wrongfully detained

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