A spokesperson for Russian President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday that there has been contact between the U.S. and Russia regarding a potential prisoner exchange involving Wall Street Journal reporter and Bowdoin graduate Evan Gershkovich.
Gershkovich, who graduated Bowdoin College in 2014, was arrested by the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) on espionage charges in March of this year — the first time an American journalist has been arrested on spying charges since the Cold War.
On Tuesday top Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists that the U.S. Ambassador to Russia, Lynne Tracy, visited Gershkovich earlier in the day on July 4, according to the Russian media outlet Tass.
Russian diplomats also visited Vladimir Dunayev, a Russian national who was extradited from South Korea to the U.S. in 2021 for alleged cyber crimes.
“Regarding the legitimate right to exercise consular contacts, this right must certainly be provided for by both sides,” Peskov said.
Peskov was then asked about a possible exchange of prisoners between the U.S. and Russia.
“We have already stated that there are certain contacts in progress regarding this issue, but we do not want to make them public. They must be followed and maintained in complete silence,” the Putin spokesman said.
A State Department spokesperson told CBS News on Monday that Gershkovich “is in good health and remains strong, despite his circumstances.”
“U.S. Embassy officials will continue to provide all appropriate support to Mr. Gershkovich and his family, and we expect Russian authorities to provide continued consular access,” the spokesperson said.
Gershkovich, whose detention was extended for an additional three months on May 23, does not yet have a trial date.
“They’re not willing to really talk to us about him yet,” Roger Carstens, the special presidential envoy for hostage affairs at the State Department, said last week to CBS News. “The Russians might play this out in a long, drawn-out trial process. And after a conviction, if he is convicted, I assume he will be, it’ll be time to negotiate his release.”
A conviction on espionage charges could put Gershkovich in prison for up to 20 years.
According to Russian news outlet Kommersant, Gershkovich was moved to await trial in the infamous Lefortovo Prison, used by Joseph Stalin and the NKVD secret police for mass executions and interrogational torture from 1936 to 1938.
“A free press is essential to a free society and is embedded in the core values of our college. Evan, along with so many other Bowdoin graduates, has dedicated himself to advancing this principle and making it real,” said Bowdoin College President Clayton Rose in a statement at the time of Gershkovich’s arrest.
“We are deeply concerned about Evan’s safety, and our thoughts are with him and his family. We very much hope for a speedy resolution to this situation and that he and his family are reunited soon,” he said.