Biden threatens Russia with costs on Evan Gershkovich arrest anniversary

By Kanishka Singh

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Joe Biden said on Friday the U.S. will impose costs for Russia’s “appalling attempts” to use Americans as bargaining chips in a statement to mark the one-year anniversary of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich’s arrest in Russia.

Gershkovich, 32, became the first U.S. journalist arrested on spying charges in Russia since the Cold War when he was detained by the Federal Security Service (FSB) on March 29 last year.

“As I have told Evan’s parents, I will never give up hope either. We will continue working every day to secure his release,” Biden said in a statement released by the White House that called the journalist’s detention “wholly unjust and illegal.”

“We will continue to denounce and impose costs for Russia’s appalling attempts to use Americans as bargaining chips,” Biden added.

The Kremlin said on Thursday complete silence was needed when it came to discussions about possible prisoner exchanges involving Gershkovich.

The reporter, the Journal and the U.S. government all deny he is a spy. The FSB, the main successor to the Soviet-era KGB, said Gershkovich had been trying to obtain military secrets.

He has now spent a year at Moscow’s high-security Lefortovo prison, which is closely associated with the FSB, and his detention has been extended to June 30.

Top leaders in the U.S. Congress from both parties including Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Republican House of Representatives Speaker Mike Johnson also issued a joint statement on Friday calling the journalist’s arrest baseless and unjust.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Gershkovich’s arrest had made Russia’s already restrictive media landscape “more oppressive.”

In their statements on Friday, Biden and Blinken also condemned the detention of Paul Whelan, an ex-Marine arrested in Moscow in 2018 and sentenced to 16 years in prison on spying charges in 2020. He and the U.S. government deny the charges.

“To Evan, to Paul Whelan, and to all Americans held hostage or wrongfully detained abroad: We are with you. And we will never stop working to bring you home,” Biden said.

(Reporting by Kanishka Singh in Washington; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)