The Kremlin on Tuesday addressed the potential of a prisoner swap with the United States for detained Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, a day after the U.S. ambassador to Moscow was permitted to visit the journalist held at the notorious Lefortovo Prison for the first time since April. 

On a call with reporters Tuesday, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov was asked whether Monday’s consular visits to Gershkovich, who has been held behind bars in Moscow since March on what the U.S. government deems bogus charges of espionage, and Vladimir Dunaev, a Russian citizen in U.S. custody on cybercrime charges, could potentially herald a prisoner swap. 

“We have said that there have been certain contacts on the subject, but we don’t want them to be discussed in public,” Peskov said of discussions between Russian and U.S. officials. “They must be carried out and continue in complete silence.”

He did not offer any further details, but added that “the lawful right to consular contacts must be ensured on both sides.”

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The Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, who has worked in Russia for six years, was detained in Yekaterinburg on March 29 and charged with spying in the interests of the American government. (Sefa Karacan/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

On Monday, Lynne M. Tracy, the U.S. ambassador to Russia, met with Gershkovich in the Lefortovo detention center in Moscow. 

“Evan is in good health and remains resilient despite the circumstances. We hope that the Russian authorities will provide regular consular access,” the U.S. embassy in Russia tweeted. 

That was the first time U.S. embassy officials were granted consular access to Gershkovich since April 17, a State Department spokesperson said, according to Reuters. 

The 31-year-old Gershkovich, who has been based in Russia for nearly six years, was arrested March 29 while on a reporting trip to the central city of Yekaterinburg. 

A Moscow court last week upheld a ruling to keep him in custody until Aug. 30. Gershkovich and his employer deny the allegations. 

The U.S. government declared Gershkovich, as well as Paul Whelan, a U.S. Marine veteran serving a 16-year sentence after being convicted in 2020 of spying, to be wrongfully detained. 

Photo of Evan Gershkovich on billboard behind President Biden

President Biden gestures as an image of U.S. journalist Evan Gershkovich appears onscreen during the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner at the Washington Hilton in Washington, D.C., April 29, 2023. (SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)

BROTHER OF RUSSIA DETAINEE PAUL WHELAN CALLS ON BIDEN ADMINISTRATION TO GET HIM, IMPRISONED WSJ REPORTER HOME

Whelan’s brother, David, spoke to NewsNation on Tuesday on America’s Independence Day. 

He said Paul Whelan has been losing weight and has been leading “a very depressing life,” over the past five years since he was detained in Russia in 2018. “On a day like today, when you know that America has its freedom, and Americans have it,” David Whelan said, “at least Paul has that to look forward to that at some point, he will be coming back to our free country and people in Russia really can’t understand what it is to have the rights and freedoms not always perfect, but the opportunity, the possibility of the freedom, and I think Paul is sustained by that.”

In what was the most recent prisoner swap achieved between the U.S. and Russia, WNBA star Brittney Griner was released in December in exchange for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout. 

Gershkovich is the first American reporter to face espionage charges in Russia since September 1986, when Nicholas Daniloff, a Moscow correspondent for U.S. News and World Report, was arrested by the KGB. Daniloff was released 20 days later in a swap for an employee of the Soviet Union’s U.N. mission who was arrested by the FBI, also on spying charges.

Evan Gershkovich seen behind glass in Moscow court

Evan Gershkovich appears at the Moscow court to appeal against the decision to keep him in a former KGB prison in Russia on June 22, 2023. (Sefa Karacan/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

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Dunaev was extradited from South Korea on U.S. cybercrime charges and is in detention in Ohio. Russian diplomats were granted consular access to him on Monday for the first time since his arrest in 2021, Nadezhda Shumova, the head of the Russian Embassy’s consular section, said in remarks carried by the Tass news agency.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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