Biden Says He’s ‘Serious’ about Prisoner Swap for WSJ Reporter Held in Russia

Photo for The Washington Post
Evan Gershkovich appears in court in Moscow, Russia, on April 18, 2023.

President Biden said Thursday that he’s serious about pursuing a prisoner exchange for Evan Gershkovich, a Wall Street Journal reporter who has now been detained in Russia for more than 100 days.

“I’m serious about a prisoner exchange,” Biden told reporters during a news conference in Helsinki. “I’m serious about doing what we can to free Americans being illegally held in Russia or anywhere else, for that matter. And that process is underway.”

The comments came at the tail end of a five-day swing through Europe, which also included attending this year’s NATO summit in Lithuania and a visit to Britain.

Gershkovich was arrested on espionage charges in Russia while on a reporting trip. In April, the State Department officially designated the reporter as wrongfully detained.

The Kremlin and the White House have confirmed that officials have discussed a potential prisoner swap that could include Gershkovich. The Kremlin has emphasized that those discussions remain out of the public eye.

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan met with representatives for the Wall Street Journal and Gershkovich’s family last week to discuss the status of his case – a meeting coinciding with the 100-day mark since the start of the reporter’s detention.

Despite the president’s emphasized commitment to a prisoner exchange, last week Sullivan underscored that he did not want to “give false hope” about getting the reporter home.

“We have . . . made clear for months now – even before Evan was detained, as we were dealing with Paul Whelan – that we are prepared to do hard things in order to get our citizens home, including getting Evan home,” Sullivan said. Whelan, a former Marine, was arrested in Moscow in 2018 over espionage charges the U.S. government has denied.

“I don’t want to give false hope,” Sullivan continued. “What the Kremlin said earlier this week is correct. There have been discussions, but those discussions have not produced a clear pathway to a resolution, and so I cannot stand here today and tell you that we have a clear answer to how we are going to get Evan home.”

Discussions about repatriating Americans wrongfully detained in Russia have gone on throughout much of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The White House has continued to push for Whelan’s release. And last year, WNBA star Brittney Griner was released from a Russian prison and repatriated to the United States in exchange for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.