US in search for Russians prisoner in exchange for marine veteran

Washington also reportedly wants to sweeten the deal with “narrow” sanctions relief

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The US is on a worldwide search for Russians who could be used in a potential swap involving former Marine Paul Whelan and journalist Evan Gershkovich, CNN reported on Thursday citing three sources familiar with the matter. Both Americans are currently held by Moscow on espionage charges. According to the outlet, Washington US is also “exploring narrow sanctions relief” in order to entice Moscow into a prisoner exchange, according to RT News.

The White House approached several countries, including those holding alleged “Russian spies” in their custody, in order to determine if they would be willing to participate in the swap, CNN said.

Brazil, Norway, Germany, and an unnamed “former Soviet bloc” country were mentioned among the governments contacted by the US regarding a possible trade. 

Russia’s ambassador to Washington, Anatoly Antonov, blasted the US last month for “its policy of hunting Russians around the world.” He cited estimates that more than 100 Russians were behind bars in the US, many on spurious charges. 

However, Washington currently does not have “any high-level Russian spies” or other high-profile inmates in its custody whom Moscow would view as candidates for an exchange, sources told CNN. 

Gershkovich, a reporter for the Wall Street Journal, was detained in March and charged with espionage. Whelan, a former US Marine, was arrested in late 2018, also on espionage charges, convicted in 2020 and sentenced to 16 years in prison. Both men denied any wrongdoing. 

Despite tensions over Ukraine, Moscow and Washington have recently conducted several high-profile swaps. Last year, Russia released basketball star Brittney Griner, who was serving a nine-year-sentence after being convicted of smuggling drugs. In exchange, the US handed over businessman Viktor Bout, who was serving a 25-year-sentence on arms trading charges. 

In another 2022 swap, the US released Russian civilian pilot Konstantin Yaroshenko in exchange for ex-Marine Trevor Reed.

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