Trump: Putin Will Release American Journalist Only for Me

The exact number of Americans in Russian prisons is unknown, but the cases of Gershkovich and Whelan have attracted the most public attention

by Sededin Dedovic
Trump: Putin Will Release American Journalist Only for Me
© Handout / Getty Images

Former U.S. President Donald Trump stated today that if he is re-elected, he can rely on his relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin to secure the release of "Wall Street Journal" journalist Evan Gershkovich, who has been detained in Moscow for over a year, according to the "New York Times".

Gershkovich will "be released almost immediately after the election, but definitely before I take office," Trump wrote on his social media platform. By this, the "New York Times" notes, he suggests that this possibility depends on his potential victory over the current President Joe Biden in the November elections.

"Vladimir Putin, the President of Russia, will do this for me, and for no one else," said Trump, the presumed Republican candidate for President. Trump often boasts about his closeness with Putin, and has even praised his strongman tendencies in interviews and during his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination.

When asked about Trump's statement today, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters that "Putin does not have contacts with Donald Trump, of course." When Trump brings up his relationship with Putin, it is to bolster his claims that if he became president, he could end the war in Ukraine and that the war would not have started if he had still been in office.

However, Trump did not mention Gershkovich until last month, even though he has been in a Russian prison since April 2023. After his arrest in Russia, Gershkovich was quickly accused of espionage, which the White House described as "wrongful detention."

Danielle Gershkovich (L), sister of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, listens to panelists speak during an event hi© Win McNamee / Getty Images

This suggests that the U.S.

views Gershkovich as a political hostage and considers the charges against him to be fabricated. Russia has not presented any evidence to support the espionage charges, which both Gershkovich and the "Wall Street Journal" vehemently deny.

The Biden administration claims it is working on securing the journalist's release. The Kremlin announced last month that "contacts" are ongoing regarding a potential exchange for American journalist Evan Gershkovich, but no progress has been made, and no further information about the "contacts" has been provided.

However, this does not mean that nothing is happening behind the scenes, as we could infer from the statements of the Kremlin spokesperson. "We have emphasized several times that some contacts are ongoing, but they need to be conducted in complete silence," Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

"Breaking the silence would only create additional problems and prevent achieving any results in this process," Peskov added, without giving further details. "Wall Street Journal" journalist Evan Gershkovich (32), who also worked for Agence France-Presse in Moscow between 2020 and 2021, was arrested by the FSB in March 2023 while reporting in Yekaterinburg in the Urals.

He denies the espionage charges, for which he faces up to 20 years in prison. The charges are also denied by the U.S., his newspaper, and his relatives. Russia has never publicly released evidence to support the charges, and the entire process is classified as secret, reports Agence France-Presse.

Journalists and members of the Independent Association of Publishers Employees a rally to call for release of Wall Street Journa© Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

Washington accuses Moscow of taking him hostage to exchange him for Russians imprisoned in Western countries, as has been done for several American citizens in recent years in Russia.

Russian President Vladimir Putin previously said he was ready to exchange Gershkovich for Vadim Krasikov, who is serving a life sentence in Germany for the murder of a Chechen dissident in Berlin in 2019. Gershkovich's detention has been extended until June 30 according to a Russian court's decision.

The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs earlier stated that it could consider an exchange only after the journalist's trial verdict is announced, reports the Associated Press.

Who are the other Americans detained in Russia?

Paul Whelan, a security company director from Michigan, is also in a Russian prison, accused of espionage.

He was arrested in 2018 and sentenced to 16 years in prison two years later. Whelan, who says he came to Moscow to attend a friend's wedding, claims he is innocent and that the charges against him are fabricated. The U.S. government has also declared his detention wrongful and is working on his release.

Travis Leake, a musician who has lived in Russia for years, is also imprisoned on drug-related charges. Mark Fogel, a teacher in Moscow, was sentenced to 14 years in prison, and Alsu Kurmasheva and Ksenia Kavina were also detained.

Kurmasheva, a Radio Free Europe journalist with dual citizenship, was arrested in October 2023 in her hometown of Kazan, where she went to visit her sick mother. She faces several charges, including failing to register as a "foreign agent" and spreading false information about the military.

The exact number of Americans in Russian prisons is unknown, but the cases of Gershkovich and Whelan have attracted the most public attention, reports VOA.

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