(DCWatchdog.com) – President Joe Biden has demanded that Russian leader Vladimir Putin release a Wall Street Journal reporter who Moscow arrested on espionage charges.
31-year-old Evan Gershkovich was arrested by the Russian authorities last Wednesday while he was on assignment in the city of Yekaterinburg in Central Russia.
“Let him go,” Biden told reporters in Washington, DC, when asked about his message to Putin about Gershkovich.
“We’re in the process,” he added, as cited by The New York Post, referring to US diplomatic efforts about the reporter’s release.
The president was asked whether he would retaliate for Gershkovich’s arrest by expelling any Russian diplomats or journalists from the United States.
“That’s not the plan right now,” Biden replied.
In the meantime, speaking during a press conference in the African nation of Zambia, Vice President Kamala Harris stated the administration was “deeply concerned” about the WSJ reporter’s detention.
“We will not tolerate — and condemn, in fact — repression of journalists,” Harris declared.
Russia’s FSB service, the successor of the Soviet KGB, has accused Gershkovich of harvesting secret state information about a military factory.
The US national, whose parents fled the Soviet Union for America, has been a foreign correspondent in Russia for six years.
Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Gershkovich was “caught red-handed.” However, neither he nor the FSB provided any specifics.
The Wall Street Journal described the accusations against the journalist as false, and White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said they were “ridiculous.”
“The targeting of American citizens by the Russian government is unacceptable. We condemn the detention of Mr. Gershkovich in the strongest terms,” Jean-Pierre said in a statement.
The journalist appeared before a Moscow judge on Thursday and pleaded not guilty to espionage charges.
He was sent to jail till May 29. If convicted, he could go to prison for 20 years.
Gershkovich’s arrest has made him the first foreign reporter criminally charged with spying by Moscow since 1986.
Back then, US News and World correspondent Nicholas Daniloff was kept by the Soviets for three weeks. He was exchanged for an employee of the Soviet UN Mission.
A senior official of the Kremlin is quoted as saying it was “too early” to discuss a possible prisoner exchange to free Gershkovich.
In December 2022, the Biden administration exchanged WNBA player Brittney Griner for arms trafficker Victor Bout.