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US-Russia ties touch new low, detention of WSJ journalist could lead to another prisoner swap

Moscow correspondent of The Wall Street Journal, Evan Gershkovich has been detained by Russia's Federal Security Service on suspicion of "spying in the interests of the American government" (Video grab courtesy: Twitter/@nexta_tv)

Russia and the United States seem to be heading towards another major confrontation as both countries are now locked in a rapidly escalating war of words over Moscow’s detention of a US citizen.

Russia’s Federal Security Service detained Evan Gershkovich, a correspondent of the Moscow bureau of The Wall Street Journal, last week on suspicion of “spying in the interests of the American government”.

The intelligence agency said that it was established that Gershkovich, acting on the instructions of the American side, collected information constituting a state secret about the activities of one of the enterprises of the Russian military-industrial complex.

“While trying to obtain secret information, the foreigner was detained in Yekaterinburg,” it said in a statement.

The White House reacted strongly, saying it was “deeply concerned” about the “troubling reports” on Gershkovich’s detention.

Accusing the Russian government of “targeting” US citizens, the US said that its State Department has maintained direct contact with the Russian government on the matter.

the wall street journal
The front page of The Wall Street Journal on Monday (Image courtesy: Twitter/@WSJ)

On Sunday, the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken dialled Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to convey the United States’ “grave concern” over Russia’s “unacceptable detention” of a US citizen journalist.

Moscow, on the other hand, said that Blinken’s attention was drawn to the “need to respect” the decisions of the Russian authorities, taken in accordance with the law and international obligations of the Russian Federation.

Lavrov insisted that Gershkovich was “caught red-handed” while trying to obtain secret information, collecting data constituting a state secret under the guise of a journalistic status and that his further fate will be determined by the court.

“It was emphasized that it is unacceptable for officials in Washington and the Western media to whip up a stir with the clear intention of giving this case a political colouring,” said the Russian Foreign Ministry after the Lavrov-Blinken phone call.

Wall Street Journal Journalist

Blinken also urged the Kremlin to immediately release Paul Whelan, another “wrongfully detained” US citizen and a former US Marine in Russian detention for charges of espionage since 2018.

As reported by IndiaNarrative.com earlier, the Biden administration was severely criticised for preferring a basketball star over Whelan in the dramatic one-for-one prisoner swap carried out at the Abu Dhabi airport on December 8.

Washington and Moscow exchanged jailed Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) player Brittney Griner for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.

Critics slammed the US President for “leaving behind” a US marine who has been languishing in a Russian prison for more than four years and bringing home Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medallist, who has been slammed for her views on the national anthem during the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020.

The US, which said that it will continue to do “everything possible” to bring Whelan home, is now under more pressure with the Gershkovich detention episode.

Maintaining that the proposal has not yet been placed on the table, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov has also not ruled out another exchange.

“I wouldn’t raise a question in this plane now, because, you know, some exchanges that took place in the past, they took place for people who were already serving sentences, including US citizens under fairly serious articles,” said Ryabkov was quoted as saying by RIA Novosti on whether the detained journalist could become a candidate for an exchange with the US.

Also Read: US and Russia undertake high-profile prisoner swap at Abu Dhabi airport