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14 Dec, 2023 16:08

Russia ready for deal on jailed Americans – Putin

Moscow would like to reach an agreement with Washington on returning two US nationals accused of espionage, the Russian president has said
Russia ready for deal on jailed Americans – Putin

Russia has never refused to hand over Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich and former marine Paul Whelan to the US, President Vladimir Putin clarified during a marathon Q&A session on Thursday.

The two US nationals are currently being held in custody in Russia on espionage charges. Washington has insisted that its citizens are being wrongfully detained and has been trying to secure their release. To that end, CNN has reported that the Biden administration is currently looking around the world for detained Russians who can be exchanged for the two US citizens.

Vladimir Putin was asked by a New York Times reporter to comment on a claim made by a State Department spokesperson that Moscow had recently rejected a “substantial offer” to return Gershkovich and Whelan to the US. 

The president insisted that Moscow has not refused to send the two Americans home, but is looking for a deal with Washington that would be “mutually acceptable and suit both parties.”

He noted that Russia maintains contact with its American partners on this issue and that the dialogue, while complex, is still ongoing.

“I hope we will find a solution, but the American side must hear us and make a decision that suits the Russian side,” Putin said, adding that humanitarian considerations must underpin these decisions.

Whelan was arrested in Moscow in 2018 after accepting a flash drive that contained classified documents from an undercover officer of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB). In 2020, he was sentenced to 16 years in prison on espionage charges.

Gershkovich was arrested by the FSB in Ekaterinburg in late March after he was “caught in the act” of allegedly trying to collect classified information about the activities of a Russian military-industrial enterprise. He is currently awaiting trial. On Thursday, a Moscow court rejected an appeal to release Gershkovich from custody and upheld a previous court’s extension of his arrest until January 30.

Elsewhere during the Q&A session, the Russian president stated that Moscow remained open to improving ties with the US, which Putin called an “important country” in the world.

However, he noted that the “imperial policies” pursued by Washington were not only hindering the normalization of relations with Moscow but also creating problems for the US.

“In the public consciousness, they must behave like an empire,” Putin explained, noting that if the US elites “agree on something or give in, this is perceived by the electorate as a failure.” 

The Russian president suggested that conditions for the restoration of relations between Moscow and Washington will be met only when there are internal changes in the US and when its leaders learn to respect other countries and attempt to compromise with them rather than impose sanctions or use military force.

“For now, there are no such conditions,” Putin admitted.

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