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Russia awaits US reply on prisoner swap proposals

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In a high-stakes diplomatic standoff, Russia has presented its proposals for a prisoner exchange to the United States and is awaiting a response, with the trial of U.S. journalist Evan Gershkovich set to commence in a few days.

Gershkovich, a reporter for the Wall Street Journal, was detained in March 2023 on espionage charges, which have been vehemently denied by his family, employer, and the White House.

Russian President Vladimir Putin had earlier indicated that discussions regarding a potential swap involving Gershkovich were ongoing, although the Kremlin has remained tight-lipped on the specifics.

Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, in an interview with the state-run TASS news agency, emphasized that the U.S. now holds the responsibility to respond to Russia’s proposals.

“The ball is in the court of the United States,” Ryabkov stated. “We are waiting for them to respond to the ideas that were presented to them.”

Ryabkov suggested that while the U.S. might find some aspects of the proposals unappealing, Russia considers its terms “justified, sensible, balanced” and anticipates the U.S. will ultimately recognize their reasonableness.

Gershkovich’s trial, which will be conducted behind closed doors in Yekaterinburg on June 26, could result in a 20-year prison sentence if he is convicted. His case marks the first time a Western journalist has faced espionage charges in Russia since the Soviet era.

The situation is compounded by other recent arrests of Americans in Russia. On Wednesday, a court in Russia’s Far East sentenced U.S. soldier Gordon Black to three years and nine months in prison for allegedly threatening to kill his girlfriend and stealing from her. Black, who was visiting a Russian woman he met in South Korea, pleaded partially guilty to theft but denied the threat charges. His legal team plans to appeal the verdict.

The U.S. State Department has urged American citizens to leave Russia immediately, citing increased risks of arbitrary detention.

“We reiterate our strong warnings about the danger posed to U.S. citizens inside the Russian Federation,” a State Department spokesperson said.

Washington has long accused Moscow of detaining U.S. nationals on dubious charges to leverage their release in exchange for Russians imprisoned abroad. The Kremlin has hinted at a willingness to negotiate, potentially involving a Russian sentenced in Germany for the assassination of a Chechen dissident.

Other Americans currently held in Russia include reporter Alsu Kurmasheva, a dual U.S.-Russian citizen detained last year for allegedly failing to register as a “foreign agent.”

Her arrest has been criticized as politically motivated. Additionally, former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, who has been imprisoned since 2018 on espionage charges, continues to seek inclusion in any potential prisoner exchange.

His family recently marked the 2,000th day of his incarceration, expressing frustration over what they perceive as inadequate efforts from the U.S. government to secure his release.

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