The United States doesn’t “have a sense” of how Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich is being treated in Russia, Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs Roger Carstens said on “CBS Mornings” Wednesday.
Carstens said officials have not been able to meet with Gershkovich or gain consular access to him. However, the decision this week to label Gershkovich a “wrongfully detained” American citizen “brings to bear more tools” that the government can use to effect his release, Carstens said.
“Now that he is wrongfully detained, we start to work on negotiating strategies and working with the Russians to find Evan’s release and not only Evan, but Paul Whelan as well,” Carstens said. Whelan has been in Russian custody for nearly five years.
Gershkovich, 31, was arrested in Yekaterinburg, Russia’s fourth-largest city, on March 29. He has been charged with espionage on the behalf of the United States, and the Russian Federal Security Service accused him of trying to obtain classified information about a Russian arms factory, which the Wall Street Journal denies.
Gershkovich is the first U.S. correspondent to be detained for alleged spying since the Cold War.
Gershkovich is being held in Lefortovo, a notorious prison in Moscow. Carstens said Wednesday that Americans including Paul Whelan, Britney Griner and Trevor Reed have been imprisoned there in the past. Griner and Reed have returned home, while Whelan remains imprisoned in Russia.
On Wednesday, Carstens described the facility as a “tough prison.”
“If there’s one thing that I can say that prison is famous for, it’s isolation and keeping prisoners in a state of isolation, and that can have a psychological effect,” Carstens said.
In a statement released on April 2, Griner said she felt “great concern” for Gershkovich. The WNBA All-Star and two-time Olympic gold medalist was imprisoned in Russia for nearly 10 months, from February to December 2022.
Wall Street Journal editor-in-chief Emma Tucker said on April 4 that Gershkovich had been able to meet with lawyers. Tucker also said his “health is good” and that the newspaper is working with the White House, the State Department and other “relevant U.S. government officials” to secure the reporter’s release.
Carstens said he could not speak publicly about the measures being taken to secure Gershkovich’s release, but said the administration has a “good track record” with similar situations.
“Under the Biden administration we’ve brought back 26 Americans in 26 months,” Carstens said. “So we’re going to find a way to bring Evan and Paul Whelan home.”