U.S. Ambassador Meets with Russian Official on Evan Gershkovich Detention

WASHINGTON — The U.S. ambassador in Moscow met on Thursday with a Russian deputy foreign minister to discuss the detention by Russia of Evan Gershkovich, a reporter for The Wall Street Journal who was reporting in the Ural region of the country when he was taken captive by the authorities, a State Department official said.

Lynne M. Tracy, the ambassador, spoke with Sergei A. Ryabkov, the deputy foreign minister. U.S. officials have not been granted consular access to Mr. Gershkovich in the past week, the State Department official said. Consular officers are working through diplomatic channels to get access, the official said.

Credit…Pool photo by Gavriil Grigorov

John Kirby, a White House spokesman, said Thursday at a news conference that it was “inexcusable” that Russia has not provided consular access.

Mr. Gershkovich, 31, is being held at Lefortovo Prison in Moscow. He was first detained last Thursday by officials in the city of Yekaterinburg and then brought to Moscow to be put under formal arrest that same day. Russian officials have accused Mr. Gershkovich of espionage, even though he was simply reporting, The Wall Street Journal has said. Mr. Kirby has said the accusations are “nonsense.”

The Russian foreign ministry, in a statement, said that during the meeting Mr. Ryabkov had stressed “the serious nature of the charges” to the American. The statement repeated the accusation that Mr. Gershkovich was guilty of espionage without providing evidence. The ministry also said “the hype about the case in the United States” was intended to influence the court, a plan it said was “hopeless and senseless.”

A Moscow court said Monday that it had received an appeal from Mr. Gershkovich’s lawyers challenging his arrest and a hearing had been scheduled on April 18, Russian news agencies reported.

The State Department could soon designate Mr. Gershkovich a “wrongfully detained” person, a formal label based on a legal determination that would give the U.S. government more latitude in trying different ways to get him released.

The State Department has applied that label to Paul Whelan, a former U.S. Marine imprisoned in Russia on an espionage conviction. It did the same with Brittney Griner, an American basketball star who was detained by Russia on drug charges days before President Vladimir V. Putin ordered a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. Russia released Ms. Griner in December after the United States agreed to free Viktor Bout, a convicted Russian arms dealer.

In a statement on Monday, Alexei Melnikov, the secretary of Moscow’s public oversight commission — a group of civil society members who monitor human rights in pretrial detention centers — said that he had visited Mr. Gershkovich at Lefortovo Prison.

The prison was used by the K.G.B. as a place to keep Soviet dissidents. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, it has been used by the agency’s successor to isolate opponents of the Kremlin.

Anushka Patil contributed reporting.

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