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Russia Declines US Proposal to Release 2 Americans Held Without Cause

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The State Department is seeking the release of Evan Gershkovich and Paul Whelan, who have been detained in Russia on espionage charges.

The United States said Tuesday that it had made a “significant proposal” to secure the release of two “wrongfully detained” Americans, namely Evan Gershkovich and Paul Whelan, but it was rejected by Russia.

Mr. Gershkovich is a Wall Street Journal reporter, while Mr. Whelan is a former U.S. Marine who worked as a corporate security executive in Michigan. Both were detained in Russia on espionage charges.

U.S. State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller told reporters on Dec. 5 that “a new and significant proposal” has been made in recent weeks to secure their release, but Russia refused to accept it.

Mr. Miller declined to provide specific details about the proposal, but he clarified that it was solely intended to secure the release of Mr. Whelan and Mr. Gershkovich and not any other detainees.

“That proposal was rejected by Russia. [We] shouldn’t have to make these proposals; they never should have been arrested in the first place. They should both be released immediately,” Mr. Miller said. “But we have made a number of proposals … including a substantial one in recent weeks.”

Mr. Miller said the Biden administration would continue “to do everything we can to bring both of them home,” including discussing this issue with allies who can help secure their release.

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“Not a week goes by without intense activity to bring Paul and Evan home,” he said.

Mr. Whelan holds U.S., British, Irish, and Canadian citizenship. After a bad-conduct discharge from the Marine Corps in 2008, he went to work as a corporate security executive for a Michigan-based international auto parts manufacturer.

He was traveling in Moscow in December 2018 when he was detained by Russian authorities on espionage charges. Mr. Whelan was sentenced to 16 years in prison after being convicted in a Russian court in July 2020.
Mr. Gershkovich has been in detention since the end of March when he was apprehended in Yekaterinburg, nearly 1,200 miles east of Moscow, while on a reporting assignment.

He faces allegations of espionage on behalf of the United States, specifically that he allegedly “collected information constituting a state secret about the activities of one of the enterprises of the Russian military-industrial complex.”

Both Mr. Gershkovich and his employer have vehemently denied these allegations, with the U.S. government declaring his detention wrongful. Russian authorities have yet to provide concrete evidence to support the espionage charges.

Alsu Kurmasheva’s Case

When asked about the release of Alsu Kurmasheva—a Russian-American journalist who was detained in Russia for failing to register as an agent of a foreign government—Mr. Miller said that Washington is closely monitoring her case.

“We remain deeply concerned about the extension of her pre-trial detention. We take seriously our commitment to assist U.S. citizens who have been detained overseas, and we will continue to do so,” he added.

 Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) journalist Alsu Kurmasheva, accused of violating Russia's law on foreign agents, talks to her lawyer Edgar Matevosyan as they attend a court hearing in Kazan, Russia, on Oct. 23, 2023. (Alexey Nasyrov/Reuters)
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) journalist Alsu Kurmasheva, accused of violating Russia’s law on foreign agents, talks to her lawyer Edgar Matevosyan as they attend a court hearing in Kazan, Russia, on Oct. 23, 2023. (Alexey Nasyrov/Reuters)

Ms. Kurmasheva, who works for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, has been detained since June and was formally arrested and charged in October with failing to register as an agent of a foreign government. Her pre-trial detention has been extended until February.

A coalition of 14 press freedom and First Amendment civil society groups, led by the National Press Club, has urged the Biden administration to designate Ms. Kurmasheva as a wrongfully detained U.S. citizen.

“Our understanding is that Russia has not officially notified the State Department of her detention — however, the U.S. should not delay its own process due to what appears to be a stalling tactic.

“We are deeply concerned this has resulted in Alsu not receiving any regular consular visits yet,” the coalition stated in a letter addressed to U.S. State Secretary Antony Blinken on Nov. 28.

They urged Washington to change “outmoded requirements” on designating wrongful detentions “so that the State Department has the authority to quickly declare a detention is unjust when a journalist is taken.”

Caden Pearson and Ryan Morgan contributed to this report.

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