Russian President Vladimir Putin recently commented on what a deal would look like for the release of two U.S. citizens—the Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, who is Jewish, and Paul Whelan, a former Marine. Both are charged with spying, which Washington has called a baseless accusation.
“It is not simple. I will not go into details now, but in general, it seems to me that we speak a language that is understandable to each other,” Putin said during a press conference on Thursday.
“The American side must hear us and make an appropriate decision, one that suits the Russian side” the Russian leader added. “We want to reach an agreement, and these agreements must be mutually acceptable and must suit both parties.”
Gershkovich, who has been held since March 29, faces 20 years in prison. On Thursday, his pre-trial detention was extended until Jan. 30, the New York Post reported.
Through a campaign of the Jewish Federations of North America, more than 2,100 people sent Rosh Hashanah greeting cards to Gershkovich in September. Earlier in the year, many set a seat at their Passover seder table for him.
Whelan has been held since 2018 and faces 16 years. He was reportedly attacked by another inmate last month.
“We very much want to bring Evan Gershkovich home. We very much want to bring Paul Whelan home. We have put multiple offers on the table,” Matthew Miller, the U.S. State Department spokesman, said during the department’s press briefing on Thursday.
“There is one significant offer that we made as recently as a few weeks ago. We have seen those offers rejected every time by the Russian government. So we would welcome them negotiating in good faith,” Miller said. “But so far, we have seen them refuse to take us up on our proposals, and we hope that they will—that they will change the way they’ve handled this going forward.”
John Kirby, coordinator for strategic communications at the National Security Council of the White House, also discussed Putin’s statements during the White House press briefing on Thursday. “He’s absolutely wrong that his government did not rebuff a serious proposal,” Kirby said. “There was one put forward, and they rebuffed it. He’s just wrong, flat out.”