Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said on Wednesday that the U.S. government remained “intensely engaged” in efforts to get Moscow to free Evan Gershkovich, the Wall Street Journal reporter who has been held for more than a month on espionage charges that his employer and American officials vehemently deny.
Speaking at a World Press Freedom Day event at The Washington Post, Mr. Blinken reiterated that President Biden and President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia had a “special channel” for discussing prisoners.
“I wish I could say in this moment there was a clear way forward,” he said. “I don’t have that in this moment.”
“We have a country in the case of Russia that like a handful of other countries around the world is wrongfully detaining people, using them as political pawns, using them as leverage in a practice that is absolutely unacceptable and that we’re working both broadly to try to deter — but also at the same time to try to secure the release of those who are being unjustly detained,” Mr. Blinken said.
He added that the State Department was working on getting Russia to allow more consular visits with Mr. Gershkovich, who has had only one to date. The U.S. ambassador to Russia, Lynne M. Tracy, was able to meet with him on April 17.
That visit came more than two weeks after he was detained, and followed repeated State Department calls for Russia to grant access. Consular access has been a consistent problem for Americans jailed in Russia. It was an issue with Brittney Griner, the basketball star who was detained shortly before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February of last year. She was freed in a prisoner swap in December.
Mr. Gershkovich is being held at Moscow’s infamous Lefortovo Prison, where inmates are held in isolation with rare visits by lawyers. He has appeared in public just once, to declare his innocence from inside a glass defendant’s cage in a courtroom on April 18. As expected, a judge denied his appeal to lift his pretrial detention and sent him back to Lefortovo.
At a United Nations event on Tuesday, the publisher of The Journal, Almar Latour, condemned the lack of consular access to Mr. Gershkovich, which he said had been “limited or delayed significantly.”
He said Mr. Gershkovich’s Russian lawyers had told Journal officials that he was receiving letters in jail.
“We have heard from them that Evan is thankful and is reading every letter he is getting,” Mr. Latour said.
At the press freedom event, David Ignatius, a Washington Post columnist, pressed Mr. Blinken on when the State Department might make a formal determination that a Russian journalist and Post contributor, Vladimir Kara-Murza, had been wrongfully imprisoned by Russia. Mr. Ignatius pointed out that Mr. Kara-Murza has been a permanent resident of the United States and that his wife and two children are U.S. citizens.
“I don’t want to put a time frame on it,” Mr. Blinken said. “Again, it’s something that we’re looking at constantly.”