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Russia and US Discussing Prisoner Swap to Free American Journalist, Kremlin Says

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The U.S. and Russia are discussing a new prisoner swap that could involve jailed Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, who is being held in a Moscow prison on espionage charges that he denies, and a Russian detained in the U.S. on cybercrime charges, the Kremlin said Tuesday.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters that Russian and U.S. officials have discussed the prisoner exchange that could involve Gershkovich and Vladimir Dunaev, who was extradited from South Korea and is in detention in the U.S. Midwestern state of Ohio. 

READ MORE about a previous prisoner swap between Russia and the United States

On Monday, the U.S. granted consular access to Dunaev for the first time since his 2021 arrest, while Lynne Tracy, the U.S. ambassador to Moscow, visited with Gershkovich for the second time since his late March arrest.

There was no indication that an immediate exchange was in the offing, with a Russian court ruling last week that Gershkovich can be kept in custody until August 30 and Russia often saying that any exchange could not be carried out until a verdict is rendered in his case. No trial date has been set.

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Peskov said, “We have said that there have been certain contacts on the subject, but we don’t want them to be discussed in public. They must be carried out and continue in complete silence.”

He didn’t offer any further details, adding that “the lawful right to consular contacts must be ensured on both sides.”

The 31-year-old Gershkovich was arrested in the Russian city of Yekaterinburg while on a reporting trip. He, the Journal, and the U.S. government have adamantly denied the espionage charge Russia lodged against him.

A White House official told the Journal on Tuesday, “While we unfortunately do not have a breakthrough to share, we continue to pursue every avenue to secure the release of Evan Gershkovich and fellow American Paul Whelan,” a former U.S. Marine held by Russia on spying charges since 2018.

Even as the U.S. has supplied billions of dollars of arms to Ukraine in its fight against Russia’s 16-month invasion, Moscow and Washington have engaged in prisoner exchange talks and carried out two of them since Russia started the war.

Late last year, U.S. professional basketball star Brittney Griner was swapped for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, while earlier in 2022, Trevor Reed, an American who was convicted in Russia of assaulting two police officers, was exchanged for Konstantin Yaroshenko, who had been sentenced to 20 years in prison in 2011 for conspiracy to smuggle cocaine into the U.S.

The Kremlin did not immediately return a request for comment from Soldier of Fortune.

Reported by Ken Bredemeier of VOA

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