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President Biden urged Russia to release Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich

President Biden urged Russia to release Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich—saying “let him go” as he boarded a helicopter on Friday—amid a broadening rift in U.S.-Russia relations already so wide that the two powers barely maintain diplomatic communications.

Mr. Biden said the U.S. didn’t plan any expulsion of Russian diplomats. “That’s not the plan right now,” he said from the South Lawn of the White House before departing for Andrews Air Force Base. Past expulsions have prompted tit-for-tat retaliation from Moscow, leaving both the U.S. Embassy in Russia and Russia’s embassy in Washington with skeleton staff. News organizations from around the world joined on Friday in condemning Mr. Gershkovich’s arrest in Russia.

In a letter to the Russian ambassador to the U.S., Anatoly I. Antonov, top editors called for his immediate release. The letter, coordinated by the Committee to Protect Journalists, urged that Mr. Gershkovich be given access to an attorney and allowed communication with his family.
The signatories, including the Associated Press, BBC, New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal, said that Mr. Gershkovich’s “unwarranted and unjust arrest is a significant escalation in your government’s anti-press actions.”
A separate joint statement from Bloomberg News, Politico, the New York Times and The Washington Post said they were deeply troubled by his detention. “Evan’s detention is intended to have a chilling effect on independent journalism and deprive the public of essential news,” the group said.

The Russian Foreign Ministry, quoted by state newswire RIA Novosti, said that it would provide consular access to Mr. Gershkovich in accordance with internal procedures.

Some 48 hours after he was detained, Mr. Gershkovich still hadn’t been granted consular access, U.S. officials said. Consular service is typically the first of a series of steps to elevating the case of anyone who might be deemed “wrongfully detained,” an official State Department designation that typically unlocks some U.S. government resources to work on the case.
The State Department is working very hard to get a counselor…to Evan, which is something that we do for all Americans that are detained,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters on Friday.

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The sunken state of U.S.-Russia ties will make any agreement on the release of Mr. Gershkovich, 31 years old, difficult to secure as he heads toward a trial in a court under the control of Russia’s security service, the FSB, U.S. officials said.

Such a court is expected to operate on the orders of the Kremlin, increasing the prospect of a conviction after a trial that may be held in secret. The FSB said Thursday that Mr. Gershkovich was detained Wednesday for alleged espionage while on a reporting trip to the Russian provincial city of Yekaterinburg, around 800 miles east of Moscow.

The Journal vehemently denied wrongdoing on the part of Mr. Gershkovich and called for his immediate release. “We stand in solidarity with Evan and his family,” the Journal said.

Source: theguardian

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