Russia’s Foreign Ministry has summoned the US, UK and Canadian ambassadors over “crude interference in Russia’s internal affairs” after they attended the hearing of a prominent Russian opposition politician on Monday. Vladimir Kara-Murza Jr. was convicted of treason for publicly denouncing the war and sentenced to 25 years in prison.
The next day, in the same courthouse, a Russian judge ruled that American journalist Evan Gershkovich must remain behind bars on espionage charges. Another case that is part of a Kremlin crackdown on dissent and press freedom since the country invaded Ukraine.
After pressing authorities for days to grant consular access to Gershkovich, US Ambassador Lynne Tracy said she had visited the reporter in prison. She tweeted that “he is in good health and remains strong,” reiterating a US call for his immediate release.
US President Joe Biden spoke to Gershkovich’s parents last week and again condemned his detention.
“We’re making it real clear that it’s totally illegal what’s happening, and we declared it so,” he said.
A top Russian diplomat said last week that Russia might be willing to discuss a potential prisoner swap with the US involving Gershkovich – but after his trial. That means any exchange is unlikely soon.
In December, WNBA star Brittney Griner was exchanged for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout following her trial and conviction on drug possession charges. She had been sentenced to nine years in prison and ended up spending 10 months behind bars.
Another American, Michigan corporate security executive Paul Whelan, has been imprisoned in Russia since December 2018 on espionage charges, which his family and the US government have called baseless.