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U.S. envoy pledges “whatever it takes“ to bring Americans home from Russia


Reporter for U.S. newspaper The Wall Street Journal Evan Gershkovich appears in this handout picture taken in Moscow, Russia, 2019. The Moscow Times/Handout via REUTERS

The top U.S. hostage envoy on Wednesday pledged to bring home two Americans detained by Russia – journalist Evan Gershkovich and ex-Marine Paul Whelan – as he pressed Moscow to grant consular access to the Wall Street Journal reporter.

“The president of the United States and the secretary are committed to bringing Evan home and Paul Whelan as well. And we’re gonna find whatever it takes to get that job done,” Roger Carstens, a U.S. special presidential envoy, said on CNN.

In a series of television interviews, Carstens repeated Washington’s call for Moscow to allow a consular visit with detained Wall Street Journal reporter Gershkovich, who has had minimal contact with his lawyers since his detention two weeks ago.

Gershkovich appears to be in good spirits and good health, he said. “But we haven’t been able to verify that by way of a consular visit,” Carstens said on ABC News.

Earlier in Moscow, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Russia was weighing granting access.

The U.S. State Department has designated Gershkovich as “wrongfully detained,” a move Ryabkov said would not change Moscow’s approach.

“We will not tolerate any attempts to pressure us,” Russian state-owned news agency TASS quoted Ryabkov as saying.

Russia’s security service has, without providing evidence, accused Gershkovich of gathering information classified as a state secret about a military factory. The Wall Street Journal has denied Russia’s claims.

The Journal has said the “wrongfully detained” designation would help secure Gershkovich’s release and Gershkovich’s family said it was encouraged by the State Department’s move.

Asked for comment on the Carsten and Ryabkov remarks Wednesday, representatives of the newspaper directed Reuters to their previous statements on Gershkovich.

The State Department designates some Americans, including Whelan, held abroad as “wrongfully detained,” based on criteria including whether it has credible information they are innocent, if they are being detained because they are U.S. citizens or to influence U.S. policy or secure concessions.

Carsten would not elaborate on a possible prisoner swap and said on ABC he saw discussions happening over the coming “days, weeks, months.”

Washington has been unable to reach a deal to free Whelan, convicted by a Russian court of espionage in 2020.

“We have a significant offer on the table (for Whelan). We urge the Russians to take it,” Carstens told MSNBC.

Whelan’s family has expressed frustration that Paul Whelan has been left behind in other prisoner swaps, most recently of American basketball player Brittney Griner in December for convicted arms dealer Viktor Bout.

Whelan’s brother, David Whelan, told Reuters on Wednesday that he does not see many options for the U.S. government as it seeks to secure Paul’s release and it was difficult to “give any of their words any credence.”

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