Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov Sunday, calling for the “immediate release” of two Americans currently detained in Russia, the State Department announced in a statement.
Blinken demanded the release of Evan Gershkovich, an American reporter for The Wall Street Journal, and Paul Whelan, a U.S. Marine veteran who has been detained in the country since 2018. Gershkovich was arrested last week on accusations of espionage by Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB).
“Secretary Blinken conveyed the United States’ grave concern over Russia’s unacceptable detention of a U.S. citizen journalist,” the State Department readout said. “The Secretary called for his immediate release. Secretary Blinken further urged the Kremlin to immediately release wrongfully detained U.S. citizen Paul Whelan.”
“The Secretary and Foreign Minister Lavrov also discussed the importance of creating an environment that permits diplomatic missions to carry out their work,” the statement added.
On March 29, in the first arrest of an American journalist on espionage charges since 1986, Gershokovich was detained in Yekaterinburg, located in the Ural Mountains, while on a reporting trip, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Whelan is currently serving a 16-year prison sentence in a penal colony on espionage charges, accusations which Whelan denies and the U.S. government says are baseless.
“I spoke with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov today to convey our grave concern over Russia’s unacceptable detention of a U.S. citizen journalist,” Blinken posted on Twitter Sunday. “I called for his release and for the release of wrongfully detained U.S. citizen Paul Whelan.”
I spoke with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov today to convey our grave concern over Russia’s unacceptable detention of a U.S. citizen journalist. I called for his release and for the release of wrongfully detained U.S. citizen Paul Whelan.
— Secretary Antony Blinken (@SecBlinken) April 2, 2023
In a statement of their own, the Russian Foreign Ministry claimed the United States was politicizing Gershokovich’s detention, saying, “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.”
“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,” the foreign ministry said.
Russia has yet to provide any evidence for its allegations against Gershkovich but claimed he was “caught red-handed while trying to obtain secret information, collecting data constituting a state secret under the guise of a journalistic status.”
“In the light of the established facts of the illegal activities of the U.S. citizen … his further fate will be determined by the court,” the foreign ministry added.
Biden told reporters on Friday that his message to Russia regarding Gershkovich was “let him go.” As of Sunday, American officials have yet to receive consular access to the detained journalist to determine his condition. The conversation between Blinken and Lavrov was just the third since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year.