Russian Prisoner Swap At Risk

A report shows that after the controversial prisoner swap that freed WNBA star, Brittney Griner, a group of journalists and at least one senior U.S. diplomat are putting pressure on Russia to free Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reporter Evan Gershkovich from custody. 

Reports reveal, however, experts worry that the Biden administration has lost any leverage it had in obtaining the release of wrongfully imprisoned Americans.

According to a report, some believe the United States has lost leverage due to an uneven swap between Russian terrorist Victor Bout and basketball player Brittney Griner.

Victor Bout, a renowned Russian weapons dealer, was released by the United States as a swap for Griner.  The US government had been keeping Bout, also known as the “Merchant of Death,” in prison for 25 years since he was found guilty of plotting to murder US residents and officials and engaging in illicit weapons sales.

Both Democrat and Republican House leaders have spoken out against Evan Gershkovich and Paul Whelan’s incarceration in Russia, demanding that they be released immediately.

According to a report, Paul Whelan was arrested in 2018 on espionage charges.  He fervently refutes those charges. Whelan was subsequently given a 16-year jail term.

The American government was not able to secure Paul Whelan’s release despite successfully repatriating a pair of illegally detained American citizens. Trevor Reed was freed in April 2022, and Brittney Griner in December last year.

Journalist Michael Gershkovich was arrested by the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) on March 29 while on assignment in Yekaterinburg, Russia. He is being detained on suspicion of espionage, which both the Journal and the US government strongly refute.

The FSB had him locked up in a Moscow jail the next day. His pretrial detention was upheld after his court appearance on April 18, 2023. 

Trials for espionage are almost always conducted in complete secrecy, and a conviction may result in a jail term of as much as twenty years.