- By Chloe Kim & Jessica Murphy
- BBC News
Russia says it has “connections” with the United States in the case of jailed American journalist Ivan Gershkovich, suggesting the possibility of a prisoner swap.
It comes a day after the US ambassador to Russia was allowed to visit Mr Gershkovich for the second time since his imprisonment.
Russian embassy staff also recently met with Vladimir Dunay, who is being held in the US on cybercrime charges.
Mr Gershkovich was arrested on March 29 on charges of espionage.
America, the Wall Street Journal and Mr Gershkovich deny the spying allegations. He is the first Western journalist to be detained in Russia since the Soviet era.
Mr Dunev, a Russian national, was extradited from South Korea to the US in 2021, where he faces charges related to his alleged role in a transnational, cybercriminal organization. He has pleaded not guilty to multiple counts of conspiracy, wire fraud and identity theft.
Asked about the timing of the two meetings and the possibility of an exchange, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Monday: “We said there were some contacts on this matter, but we don’t want to make them public, they should be carried over. Went out and continued in complete silence.”
Mr Peskov also said the legal right to consular visits “must be ensured on both sides”.
Russia has brushed aside US requests for more visits with Mr Gershkovich since the ambassador’s initial meeting with the journalist in April.
“Ambassador Tracy reports that Mr. Gershkovich is in good health and strong despite his circumstances,” a State Department spokesman said after Monday’s visit.
The 31-year-old is being held in Moscow’s Leportovo prison, a former KGB prison.
The visit comes after a Moscow court rejected an appeal for Mr Kershkovich’s release on June 22, a move the US said at the time was deeply disappointing.
In the lead up to Monday’s meeting, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken pushed Russia “every day” to allow diplomatic access.
It has been a point of contention with both countries, with the United States accusing Russia of flouting international law by blocking diplomatic access to detained Americans.
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov at the UN in New York. Russia has indicated that its decision is related to the United States denying visas to a group of Russian reporters appointed to cover a visit to the Security Council.
The Russian Foreign Ministry described the decision to deny visas as “sabotage”.
Mr Lavrov said Russia would neither forgive nor forget the decision.
Along with Mr Gershkovich, the US is advocating for the release of former US Marine Paul Whelan, who has been in prison for more than four years.
Mr Whelan is in Mordovia, which is known for harsh conditions in prison camps south-east of Moscow.
“Both are now eligible to go home to their families,” the State Department said in a statement.
After 10 months in prison, basketball star Brittney Griner was freed in December after the United States brokered a prison swap that freed Russian Viktor Bot, who was jailed in the United States for arms trafficking.
Mr Blinken said the US was exploring ways to bring home “many Americans who have been arbitrarily detained in various parts of the world”.