The U.S. on Tuesday said Russia rejected a new and a ‘significant’ proposal that would have freed Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich and former Marine Paul Whelan.
‘This was a new proposal in recent weeks. It was a significant proposal,’ State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said at a press conference. ‘And it was rejected by the Russians, but it does not, it will not deter us from continuing to do everything we can to try and bring both of them home.’
He added that the two American citizens should never have been arrested ‘in the first place,’ calling on the Russian government to immediately release them.
‘They never should have been arrested in the first place. They should be released immediately,’ Miller said. ‘But we have made a number of proposals, including a substantial one in recent weeks and we will continue to work every day to bring Evan and Paul Whelan home. There is no prior higher priority for the Secretary of State. There is no higher priority for the president.’
While the State Department declined to provide details of the proposal to free Gershkovich and Whelan, the proposal is confirmation that Washington is continuing to secure the release of the two American citizens.
The U.S. government has declared both Whelan and Gershkovich to be wrongfully detained.
Whelan was arrested in December 2018 on charges of espionage and spying for the U.S. government and sentenced to 16 years.
He and the U.S. have denied the charges as the 53-year-old remains imprisoned at a labor camp in Russia’s Mordovia republic.
Whelan was arrested by the Russian Federal Security Service while staying in a hotel in the Moscow area.
At the time, he had reportedly arrived in the Russian capital to attend a friend’s wedding and act as a travel guide for the groom’s family. However, Russian officials claimed that Whelan had met with an unnamed Russian citizen who gave the former Marine a USB drive containing classified material.
Gershkovich was detained on March 29 of this year during a reporting trip in Yekaterinburg, the fourth-largest city in Russia, and accused of being a spy.
The U.S. has asserted that Russia’s allegations against the 32-year-old are ridiculous.
Coworkers and loved ones have described the American-born son of Soviet immigrants as a diligent reporter who is being used as a political pawn due to his high profile.