Kremlin denies Putin approved US journalist arrest

The US State Department says it has sought consular access to Gershkovich since learning of his arrest.   

The Kremlin on Thursday denied that Russian President Vladimir Putin had personally sanctioned the arrest of US reporter Evan Gershkovich, held by Moscow on spying charges. 

The Wall Street Journal reporter’s shock detention in late March was the first arrest of a US journalist on espionage charges since the Soviet era and is seen as a serious escalation of the unprecedented crackdown on press freedom. 

Kremlin explains

Citing sources “familiar with the situation,” Bloomberg on Wednesday reported that Putin had personally approved the arrest, which the Kremlin refuted.

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“No, it is not the president’s prerogative, the security services do that,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. “They are doing their job.”

Gershkovich, 31, was detained while on a reporting trip in the Urals city of Yekaterinburg and has since been held in Moscow’s Lefortovo prison. 

He has yet to be granted consular access, with Moscow saying the question is still under review.

The US State Department says it has sought consular access to Gershkovich since learning of his arrest.   

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On Tuesday, President Joe Biden called Russia’s imprisonment of the Wall Street Journal journalist “totally illegal” and told his family he was working to secure his release.

Russia’s stance on exchanges

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov on Thursday reiterated Russia’s stance that any exchanges can only be decided after a court delivers a verdict. 

Espionage charges against Gershkovich carry a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.

“The issue of exchanging anyone can only be considered after a court delivers a verdict on whatever charge,” Ryabkov told reporters.   

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“As for exchanges, then we have a special channel for this, the security services are engaged in this and they will continue to deal with this issue.” 

Gershkovich had reported in Russia for six years. 

He continued to report from the country after many Western journalists left Russia following the start of Moscow’s offensive in Ukraine.

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