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Kremlin open to talks over potential prisoner swap involving detained US reporter Evan Gershkovich

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that “there have been certain contacts on the subject, but we don’t want them to be discussed in public”

'Wall Street Journal' reporter Evan Gershkovich stands in a glass cage in a courtroom at the Moscow City Court in Moscow, Russia
'Wall Street Journal' reporter Evan Gershkovich stands in a glass cage in a courtroom at the Moscow City Court in Moscow, Russia, on June 22, 2023.Dmitry Serebryakov (AP)

The Kremlin on Tuesday held the door open for contacts with the U.S. regarding a possible prisoner exchange that could potentially involve jailed Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, but reaffirmed that such talks must be held out of the public eye.

Asked whether Monday’s consular visits to Gershkovich, who has been held behind bars in Moscow since March on charges of espionage, and Vladimir Dunaev, a Russian citizen in U.S. custody on cybercrime charges, could potentially herald a prisoner swap, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that Moscow and Washington have touched on the issue.

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

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

The U.S. Ambassador to Moscow, Lynne Tracy, on Monday was allowed to visit Gershkovich for the first time since April. The U.S. Embassy did not immediately provide more information.

The 31-year-old Gershkovich was arrested in the city of Yekaterinburg while on a reporting trip to Russia. He is being held at Moscow’s Lefortovo prison, notorious for its harsh conditions. A Moscow court last week upheld a ruling to keep him in custody until Aug. 30.

Gershkovich and his employer deny the allegations, and the U.S. government declared him to be wrongfully detained. His arrest rattled journalists in Russia where authorities have not provided any evidence to support the espionage charges.

Gershkovich is the first American reporter to face espionage charges in Russia since September 1986, when Nicholas Daniloff, a Moscow correspondent for U.S. News and World Report, was arrested by the KGB. Daniloff was released 20 days later in a swap for an employee of the Soviet Union’s U.N. mission who was arrested by the FBI, also on spying charges.

Dunaev was extradited from South Korea on the U.S. cybercrime charges and is in detention in Ohio. Russian diplomats were granted consular access to him on Monday for the first time since his arrest in 2021, Nadezhda Shumova, the head of the Russian Embassy’s consular section, said in remarks carried by the Tass news agency.

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