Vladimir Putin said that a deal can definitely be reached for the release of imprisoned Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich. In a rare one-on-one interview with Tucker Carlson, the Russian President expressed the possibility of reaching a deal for Gershkovich, facing spying charges, saying it could happen "if our partners take reciprocal steps."
Putin claimed that Gershkovich was a spy who was caught "red-handed" with classified information. However, he also said that Russia has exhausted its "gestures of goodwill." Gershkovich, 32, was arrested on March 29 last year and charged with espionage, marking the first instance of an American journalist being detained for alleged spying since the Cold War.
Putin's Chilling Warning
"There is no taboo to settle this issue," he told Carlson in the pre-recorded interview at the Kremlin in Moscow. "We are willing to solve it but there are certain terms being discussed via special services channels. I believe an agreement can be reached."
However, he maintained that Gershkovich was a spy. "You know, you can give a different interpretations to what constitutes a spy. But there are certain things provided by law," Putin said.
"If a person gets secret information and does that in conspiratorial manner, then this is qualified as espionage.
Russia's Federal Security Service alleged that Gershkovich, under instruction from the US, "collected information constituting a state secret about the activities of one of the enterprises of the Russian military-industrial complex."
Both Evan Gershkovich and the Wall Street Journal deny the espionage allegations, with the U.S. government declaring his detention as wrongful.
Russian authorities have not provided any evidence to substantiate the espionage charges.
Putin told Carlson that, according to Russian law, the journalist committed espionage and asserted that he was working for US special services.
"The fact has been proven as he was caught red-handed when he was receiving this information," Putin said.
"If it had been some farfetched excuse, some fabrication, something not proven, it would have been a different story then. But he was caught red-handed when he was secretly getting confidential information."
Putin added that Gershkovich is "not just a journalist."
"I reiterate. He's a journalist who is secretly getting confidential information," he said.
"Yes, it is different, but still, I'm talking about other people who are essentially controlled by the US authorities, wherever they are serving a sentence."
Putin said that he wants Gershkovich "to return to his homeland at last" and stressed on his sincerity in the matter.
"But at the end of the day, it does not make any sense to keep him in prison in Russia. We want the U.S. Special Services to think about how they can contribute to achieving the goals our special services are pursuing. We are ready to talk. Moreover, the talks are underway," he said.
Putin has consistently maintained that the wrongly jailed journalist would only be released as part of a trade and did not provide any new information during the interview.
The Wall Street Journal, Gershkovich's family, and the White House have consistently claimed that he is not a spy and was detained while performing his duties as a reporter.
President Joe Biden pledged to bring him home, and the State Department declared him wrongly detained by Russian authorities.
Gershkovich is currently held in the notorious Lefortovo prison, spending 90 percent of his day isolated in a small cell.
On November 28, a Russian court extended his pre-trial detention for an additional two months, with the trial date remaining unclear.