‘Let Him Go’: Biden Demands Kremlin Release Wall Street Journal Reporter

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President Joe Biden joined the editors of dozens of press agencies and newspapers around the world on Friday in condemning the detainment of American Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, demanding that the Kremlin “let him go” as he boarded Marine One on the White House lawn.

Gershkovich was detained Thursday in the eastern city of Yekaterinburg, around 800 miles east of Moscow. He is accused of espionage. The move was not a unilateral action by the FSB, with the Kremlin and the Foreign Ministry quick to endorse the move.

Biden clarified to reporters that the U.S. didn’t plan any expulsion of Russian diplomats. “That’s not the plan right now,” he told the Journal. Expelling diplomats in the past has resulted in a spiraling tit-for-tat that saw a skeleton crew of diplomats left in both embassies.

On Friday, the editors of dozens of press agencies and newspapers around the world also issued a statement demanding Gershkovich’s release.

“[Gershkovich] lived in Moscow for several years, is accredited with the Russian Foreign Ministry, and has been covering Russia as part of the Journal’s Moscow bureau. Gershkovich is a journalist, not a spy, and should be released immediately and without conditions,” the letter read.

“As an urgent first step, Gershkovich should be granted immediate access to an attorney provided by his employer. We also demand confirmation of his well-being and that he be allowed communication with his family,” it continued.

“Gershkovich’s unwarranted and unjust arrest is a significant escalation in your government’s anti-press actions. Russia is sending the message that journalism within your borders is criminalized and that foreign correspondents seeking to report from Russia do not enjoy the benefits of the rule of law,” wrote the signatories, which included Agence France-Presse, the New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal, all of which Gershkovich has worked for.

The letter was directed to Russian ambassador to the U.S. Anatoly Antonov and was organized by the Committee to Protect Journalists. Other news organizations whose leaders are signatories include the New Yorker, the Economist, the BBC, and CBC News.

On Thursday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that the U.S. seeks immediate consular access to Gershkovich so that it can provide the appropriate support. This is typically the first step in assisting someone who has been wrongfully detained. The Russian Foreign Ministry has confirmed it intends to provide this access.

“In the strongest possible terms, we condemn the Kremlin’s continued attempts to intimidate, repress, and punish journalists and civil society voices,” Blinken added.

Gershkovich’s detainment only exacerbates a deeply frayed relationship between the two countries. The U.S. along with Western allies continues to wholeheartedly support Ukraine, and Russia is feeling the pressure as sanctions mount and stalemate persists on the battlefield.

Russia has detained other American citizens in the recent past, but this is the first detainment of an American journalist since the fall of the Soviet Union. WNBA star Brittney Griner, who was detained on minor drug charges in Russia, was released in a prisoner swap that saw a notorious Russian arms dealer released. Former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan remains in prison.

Gershkovich’s detention saw a renewed effort from Michigan politicians to secure Whelan’s release. The Michigan delegation introduced resolutions in both the House and the Senate calling on Russia to present credible evidence or immediately release Whelan from prison.

“Paul Whelan needs to come home. Paul has spent more than 900 days languishing in a Russian prison without any credible evidence presented against him. He is being denied due process and consular access,” said Senator Debbie Stabenow (D., Mich.). “I’m glad the Senate came together to call on the Russian government to release Paul. I will continue to work with the Biden Administration, my colleagues and Paul’s family to end his unjust imprisonment and bring him home.”

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