WASHINGTON: The US on Wednesday urged Russia to allow a consular visit with detained Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich to confirm his condition while a senior Russian official said Moscow was weighing access but would not be pressured.
US special presidential envoy Roger Carstens, in a series of television interviews, said American diplomats had not yet been in contact with Gershkovich, a US citizen.
“As we understand, he’s in good spirits, his health is good. But we haven’t been able to verify that by way of a consular visit,” Carstens, the chief US hostage coordinator, told ABC News’ “Good Morning America” programme.
Deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov said Russia was considering granting US diplomats consular access to Gershkovich, who has had only minimal contact with his legal team since his detention two weeks ago.
The US state department has designated Gershkovich as “wrongfully detained,” a move Russia’s Ryabkov said would not change Moscow’s approach.
“We will not tolerate any attempts to pressure us, and it has no significance what status they assign to this person in Washington. We will act in accordance with our own internal needs, norms and laws that apply in this situation, and nothing more,” Russian state-owned news agency TASS quoted Ryabkov as saying.
Russia’s FSB security agency arrested Gershkovich, the first American reporter jailed in Russia on espionage charges since the end of the Cold War, in March and charged him with espionage charges that carry a maximum 20-year prison sentence.
His arrest brought an outcry from the Wall Street Journal, US president Joe Biden, other media organisations and rights groups.
The Wall Street Journal has said the “wrongfully detained” designation would help the US government in securing Gershkovich’s release. Representatives for the news outlet could not be immediately reached regarding efforts to secure consular access.
Carstens, on MSNBC, said he planned to visit Gershkovich’s family in coming days after Biden spoke with them on Tuesday.
A Moscow court next week will hear an appeal by Gershkovich’s legal team against a ruling that he be held in pre-trial detention until at least May 29.
Gershkovich is at Moscow’s Lefortovo prison, the same facility where other Americans such as Brittney Griner, Paul Whelan and Trevor Reed had been held.
Washington has been unable to reach a deal to free Whelan, convicted by a Russian court of espionage in 2020.
“We have a significant offer on the table (for Whelan). We urge the Russians to take it,” Carstens told MSNBC, adding that he spoke with Whelan on Monday.