A Kremlin spokesman confirmed Tuesday that Russia is in contact with the United States over possible plans to conduct a prisoner swap, likely for detained Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich.
On Monday, U.S. Ambassador to Russia Lynne Tracey met with Gershkovich, 32, at Lefortovo Prison in Moscow, a facility known for harsh conditions, where the reporter awaits trial. Gershkovich has been jailed since March, when he was detained on a reporting trip by the Russian Federal Security Bureau (FSB) and accused of espionage. (Gershkovich denies the allegations, and the U.S. State Department has deemed his situation a wrongful detainment.)
The meeting with Tracey, who reported through a spokesperson that Gershkovich was in “good health” and “strong, despite his circumstances,” was the first time in nearly three months that the American reporter was able to have contact with a U.S. diplomatic official.
Hours later, the Russian Embassy in Washington said some of its staff had met with Vladimir Dunaev, who is currently in pre-trial detention in Ohio. Dunaev was extradited from South Korea to the United States in 2021 on cybercrime charges. The meeting was the first time Russian officials were given consular access to him since that year, according to the head of the Russian Embassy’s consular section.
In a daily briefing on Tuesday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was asked whether the two meetings heralded a potential prisoner swap. “We have said that there have been certain contacts on the subject, but we don’t want them to be discussed in public,” Peskov said. “They must be carried out and continue in complete silence.”
There have been hints over the past few months that Russia is considering a prisoner swap, though officials have insisted that a swap could only happen after a verdict is reached in Gershkovich’s trial. A trial date has not yet been announced, and in May, a Moscow court extended the reporter’s pre-trial detention period to August 30.
Following the meeting on Monday, a State Department spokesperson reiterated calls to release Gershkovich as well as Paul Whelan, a businessman and former Marine who has been held in Russia since 2018, also on espionage charges. “Both men deserve to go home to their families now,” the spokesperson said.