“The United States could and should protect the rights of its citizen, who was caught red-handed and violated the relevant laws of the Russian Federation. That is what he is suspected of. That is all I can say,” Russian government spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists during a regular conference call on Tuesday.
Russian investigators formally charged Gershkovich with espionage, Russian state media reported, adding he denied the accusations. A Moscow court on April 18 will hear an appeal filed by Gershkovich’s lawyers against his arrest, Russian state media said citing the court. The correspondent is currently held in the Leftereovo pre-detention center until May 29.
On Monday, the Department of State formally classified the reporter as “wrongfully detained” – a status that puts the case in the hands of the special envoy for hostages, Roger Carstens.
The designation gives further backing to the assertions by the US government and the Wall Street Journal that the espionage charges against the reporter are baseless. It will empower the Joe Biden administration to explore avenues such as a prisoner swap to try to secure Gershkovich’s release.
President Biden has said Russia’s jailing of Gershkovich on spying charges is “out of bounds”.
Biden, departing Washington for a trip to Northern Ireland and Ireland, also told reporters that The Wall Street Journal correspondent’s jailing was “totally illegal”.
The president also spoke with the parents of Gershkovich, the Wall Street Journal correspondent on Tuesday.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has also said Russia’s failure to grant consular access to Gershkovich “puts it, once again, in violation of international commitments it’s made.”
“I think Russia not following through on meeting its obligations to consular access, never mind the practice of detaining people arbitrarily for political purposes, is going to do even more damage to Russia’s standing around the world — a standing that has been in free-fall, particularly since its rei-nvasion of Ukraine last year,” Blinken stated at a news conference at the US State Department.
“I think it sends a very strong message to people around the world to beware of even setting foot there, lest they be arbitrarily detained,” he added.
Blinken noted that he had designated Gershkovich as wrongfully detained Monday, and reiterated that he called on Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to immediately grant consular access and release the detained journalist.
Blinken did say what measures are being taken to free Gershkovich, only saying that the US is “engaged every single day in pressing for that access as well as pressing for Evan’s release.”