Russia does not oppose the return of Evan Gershkovich and Paul Whelan to the United States and is ready to reach a deal with Washington, but the agreement should suit both sides, President Vladimir Putin claimed during the “Direct Line” — an annual televised Q&A broadcast today for the first time since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The question about Gershkovich and Whelan was posed to Putin by a journalist from The New York Times.
Former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan was arrested in 2018 when he flew to Russia to attend the wedding of a former fellow serviceman. In June 2020, he was found guilty of espionage and sentenced to 16 years in a maximum-security prison. He did not plead guilty.
Evan Gershkovich, a reporter for The Wall Street Journal, was detained in Yekaterinburg on 30 March 2023 and subsequently accused of spying. According to the FSB, the journalist was on a mission for the United States to gather information on the activities of a Russian company in the military-industrial complex. On December 14, the Moscow City Court extended his pre-trial detention until January. 30, 2024
“As for the possible extradition of these citizens to their homeland. ‘Why not send them back to their country?’ — you ask. Why don't they avoid commiting crimes on the territory of the Russian Federation? But this is all rhetoric. It’s not that we have refused to return them. We’re not refusing. We want to reach an agreement — and these agreements have to be mutually acceptable and mutually satisfactory. We are in contact with our American partners and there’s a dialogue in place. It’s not an easy one. I’m not going to go into details now, but on the whole it seems to me that we’re speaking in a language that we can understand. I hope we can find a solution. But I repeat that the American side must listen to us and take an appropriate decision — one that is also acceptable to the Russian side. But these decisions should certainly be based on humanitarian considerations,” Putin said.