MOSCOW – The Kremlin on Tuesday kept the door open to talks with the United States over a possible prisoner swap that could potentially involve jailed Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, but reiterated that such talks must be kept out of sight of the public.
When asked whether Monday’s consular visits to Gershkovich, who has been held behind bars in Moscow since March on espionage charges, and Vladimir Dunaev, a Russian citizen in US custody on cybercrime charges, could potentially herald a prisoner exchange, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Moscow and Washington had touched on the issue.
“We said there were some contacts on the matter, but we don’t want to talk about it in public,” Peskov said on a conference call with reporters. “They must be performed and continued in complete silence.”
He did not provide further details, but added that “the legitimate right to consular contacts must be ensured by both parties”.
The US ambassador to Moscow, Lynne Tracy, was allowed to visit Gershkovich on Monday for the first time since April. The US embassy did not immediately provide further information.
Gershkovich, 31, was arrested in the city of Yekaterinburg during a news trip to Russia. He is being held in Lefortovo prison in Moscow, known for his harsh conditions. A Moscow court last week upheld a sentence that kept him in custody until August 30.
Gershkovich and his employer deny the allegations, and the US government has declared him wrongfully detained. His arrest has shaken journalists in Russia, where authorities have not provided any evidence to support the espionage allegations.
Gershkovich is the first American reporter to be accused of espionage in Russia since September 1986, when Nicholas Daniloff, Moscow correspondent for US News and World Report, was arrested by the KGB. Daniloff was released 20 days later in an exchange with an employee of the Soviet Union’s UN mission who was arrested by the FBI, also on espionage charges.
Dunaev was extradited from South Korea on US cybercrime charges and is being held in Ohio. Russian diplomats granted him consular access on Monday for the first time since his 2021 arrest, Nadezhda Shumova, head of the Russian embassy’s consular section, said in a speech reported by the Tass news agency.