Russia Stockpiling Americans in Jail As Currency: WSJ Editor

US journalist Evan Gershkovich is escorted from court after a hearing in Moscow in January 2024.
AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, File

  • Emma Tucker accused Russia of “stockpiling Americans in its jails” to trade them.
  • She said her reporter Evan Gershkovich was “picked up in order to be traded.”
  • It has been a year since Gershkovich was detained in Russia.

The editor of The Wall Street Journal accused Russia of “stockpiling Americans in its jails in order to be able to trade them at a later date.”

Emma Tucker, editor in chief of the Journal, made the comments to the BBC ahead of the one-year anniversary of journalist Evan Gershkovich’s arrest while on assignment in Russia.

Gershkovich, who has worked for the Journal since January 2022, was detained on March 29, 2023, and accused by Russia’s internal security service of “espionage in the interests of the American government.”

The Wall Street Journal issued a statement denying the allegations and demanding Gershkovich’s immediate release. 

Tucker described the situation as “just complete, total and utter nonsense.” She accused Russia of keeping him in jail as a bargaining chip to get convicted Russians freed.

“I think it’s pretty clear that [Evan] was picked up in order to be traded,” Tucker said.

“It’s often referred to as hostage diplomacy, which I absolutely hate because there’s nothing diplomatic about what’s going on. Evan is a hostage.”

“He is a bargaining chip. Putin is holding him as currency. And that is just the brutal reality of it. It makes it very difficult for governments to know how to approach this. Because there’s a lot at stake here, including what might happen in the future.”

CNN previously reported that the US government had tried to free Gershkovich and another American detained in Russia, Paul Whelan, in exchange for “a large number” of Russians who were detained for espionage charges. However, it reported that Russia did not accept the offer.

Russian President Vladimir Putin hinted last month that Gershkovich could be freed in exchange for the freedom of Vadim Krasikov, a Russian assassin serving a life sentence in Germany.

That scenario is similar to how other Americans detained in Russia have been freed.

This includes US basketball star Brittney Griner, who had been arrested in Russia in February 2022 and was freed in exchange for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout in December 2022.

Another example is Trevor Reed, a Marine veteran who was detained in Moscow in 2019. He was freed in August 2022 in exchange for a Russian pilot who was serving a 20-year sentence in the US on drug-smuggling charges.

But other Americans remain in Russian custody, though the exact number is unclear.

They include Whelan, a former US Marine who was jailed in Russia in 2018 on espionage charges, which he and the US have denied. The US is trying to work toward his release.

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