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Blinken has ‘no doubt’ US journalist was wrongfully detained; Putin refers to ‘deep crisis’ in relations

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday, June 9, 2022, in Los Angeles. (Jason Armond/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken says he has “no doubt” Russia has wrongfully detained a U.S. correspondent for The Wall Street Journal (WSJ), but that a formal determination must go through a process before a decision is announced.

Blinken made the comments on April 5 at a news conference at NATO headquarters in Brussels, while in Moscow, Russian President Vladimir used a ceremony welcoming new ambassadors to Russia to berate the new U.S. envoy.

The correspondent being held by Russia, Evan Gershkovich, was detained last week on espionage charges widely seen as politically motivated.

“In Evan’s, case we are working through the determination on wrongful detention. There is a process to do that,” he said. “In my own mind, there is no doubt that he is being wrongfully detained by Russia.”

A wrongful detention designation empowers the government to use a variety of tools, including diplomacy, to secure the release of a captured American rather than simply waiting for a criminal case to make its way through the system.

Blinken said the legal process for such a determination would be completed soon.

Gershkovich was detained in Yekaterinburg, where he was reporting about the attitude of Russians toward the Kremlin’s war against Ukraine and on the Wagner mercenary group.

The Federal Security Service (FSB) alleged that, on instructions from the United States, Gershkovich “was collecting information about one of the enterprises of the Russian military-industrial complex, which constitutes a state secret.”

Moscow claims, without evidence, that Gershkovich “was caught red-handed.”

The White House and The Wall Street Journal have denied the allegations. The reporter’s lawyers, who met with him in a Moscow prison on April 4 for the first time since his detention, have appealed his arrest.

White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters that the United States had summoned the Russian ambassador over the detention of Gershkovich.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield said she had spoken with her Russian counterpart to demand the immediate release of Gershkovich, and U.S. consular officials have requested a visit with Gershkovich, but access has not been granted.

The detention of Gershkovich comes with U.S.-Russian relations at a low point not seen since the Cold War, a fact that Putin acknowledged as he welcomed Lynne Tracy, the new U.S. ambassador to Moscow.

In a rare scene at such a diplomatic ceremony, Putin told Tracy to her face that relations between Moscow and Washington were in “a deep crisis” that was “based on fundamentally different approaches to the formation of the modern world order.”

In the televised ceremony in the Kremlin, Putin falsely claimed Washington was responsible for the “Ukrainian crisis” and that U.S. support for Ukraine in 2014 had led to the current situation.

Under pressure from Putin, Ukraine’s Russia-friendly president, Viktor Yanukovych, scrapped plans to sign a trade deal with the European Union in November 2013 and called for tighter ties with Russia instead, prompting the huge protests known as the Maidan and the Revolution of Dignity.

After Yanukovych fled for Russia in late February 2014 following deadly fighting between security forces and Maidan protesters, who accused the authorities of opening sniper fire into their ranks, the Russian military launched its occupation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and Moscow fomented separatism across eastern and southern Ukraine, igniting war in the region known as the Donbas. Moscow subsequently illegally annexed Crimea and continues to impose its rule on the peninsula.

That conflict is now part of the wider war Russia launched with the invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022.

Tracy was just one in a group of ambassadors who formally presented their diplomatic credentials at the ceremony.

Putin also told the new EU envoy to Moscow, Roland Galharague, that the bloc instigated “geopolitical confrontation” with Moscow, an apparent reference to a barrage of sanctions imposed on Russia since Putin launched his Ukraine offensive against Ukraine.