April 4, 2023

Putin Fishing for Another Prisoner Exchange

An American journalist is detained on charges of spying.

Evan Gershkovich, reporter for The Wall Street Journal, has been jailed by Russian authorities. The Russian Federal Security Bureau (FSB) claims that Gershkovich was “acting on the instructions of the American Side, [and] collected information constituting a state secret about the activities of one of the enterprises of the Russian Military industrial complex.”

Gershkovich was on a reporting trip in the city of Yekaterinburg when he was arrested. He was dragged 800 miles back to Moscow and there faced a court. According to international procedures when it comes to such arrests, Gershkovich should have been allowed consular access within the 48 hours after he was detained. That has not happened.

This arrest represents a further escalation in Russian-U.S. tensions. As The Wall Street Journal points out, a journalist has not been detained by Russian authorities on such charges since the Cold War.

For its part, the media is outraged that one of its own has been targeted. The Committee to Protect Journalists has penned an open letter to Ambassador Anatoly I. Antonov calling for the release of its fellow journalist. Media directors from all over the world have signed their names to this letter, including Washington Post Executive Editor Sally Buzbee, New York Times Executive Editor Joe Kahn, and Deborah Turness, CEO of BBC News and Current Affairs.

What was the White House’s reaction to this arrest?

So far, President Joe Biden hasn’t made any formal statements, but he did tell reporters as he was about to board his helicopter on Friday that Russia should “let him go.” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre stated: “This espionage charges [sic] are ridiculous. The targeting of American citizens by Russian government is unacceptable. We condemn the detention of Gershkovich … in the strongest terms. We also condemn the Russian government’s continued targeting and repression of journalists.”

Secretary of State Antony Blinken called for the “immediate release” of the American journalist. In a social media post, Blinken wrote: “I spoke with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov today to convey our grave concern over Russia’s unacceptable detention of a U.S. citizen journalist. I called for his release and for the release of wrongfully detained U.S. citizen Paul Whelan.”

It’s interesting that Blinken brought up Paul Whelan, who has been detained since 2018 on espionage charges. Whelan, a former Marine, was overlooked by this administration earlier this year in a previous prisoner exchange.

That exchange involved Brittney Griner, the WNBA player and DEI intersectionality champ who was arrested on drug charges — a crime she did actually commit — who was swapped for Viktor Bout, “The Merchant of Death” responsible for supplying arms to America’s enemies and other crimes against humanity. To understate things, that exchange was an ill-advised display of weakness by the U.S. government.

In the aftermath of the Griner exchange, we were left wondering what other concessions were made to facilitate the basketball star’s return.

For Gershkovich and Whelan, the situation is a bit different. They are both white men — this shouldn’t be important, but under this current administration, identity politics are king. Griner is black, homosexual, and a woman, therefore checking all the identity boxes. Gershkovich and Whelan are also both accused of espionage. Unlike Griner, these charges seem to be trumped up. In this Russia-Ukraine-U.S. proxy war, can the U.S. make a productive prisoner exchange? If so, for whom? Perhaps the real question is: Who does Putin want this time?

If the answer is “No” to a prisoner exchange, then the next question is: Why?

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