Washington: Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged his Russian counterpart, in a rare phone since the Ukraine war, to immediately release a Wall Street Journal reporter who was detained last week as well as another imprisoned American, Paul Whelan, the State Department said Sunday.
In the call with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Blinken conveyed “grave concern” over the Kremlin’s detention of journalist Evan Gershkovich on espionage allegations, according to a State Department summary of the call. Blinken called for his immediate release.
Blinken also sought the immediate release of Whelan, whom the statement said was wrongfully detained.
Whelan, a Michigan corporate security executive, has been imprisoned in Russia since December 2018 on espionage charges that his family and the US Government have said are baseless. He is serving a 16-year sentence.
Blinken and Lavrov also discussed “the importance of creating an environment that permits diplomatic missions to carry out their work,” according to the State Department.
The FSB, Russia’s top security agency and successor to the KGB, said Gershkovich was collecting information on an enterprise of the military-industrial complex. Russian authorities detained him last week, the first time a US correspondent has been held on spying accusations since the Cold War.
The Journal has adamantly denied the allegations and demanded his release. US officials have also called on Russia to let him go, with President Joe Biden telling reporters on Friday that his message to the country was “Let him go.”
More than 30 news organizations and press freedom advocates have written the Russian ambassador in the United States to express concern Russia is sending the message that reporting inside the country is criminalized.
And on Saturday night, basketball star Brittney Griner, who was detained for 10 months by Russian authorities before being released in a prisoner swap for convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, issued a statement with her wife, Cherelle, calling for the release of the 31-year-old Gershkovich.
“Every American who is taken is ours to fight for and every American returned is a win for us all,” the couple said in a statement posted on Instagram.