Demand: Immediate release of detained Americans by Russia.

The House of Representatives called upon Russia on June 13 to immediately release two American prisoners who have been accused of espionage.

In a rare moment of bipartisanship, the House passed resolution H. Res. 377, condemning Russia’s “arbitrary and baseless” detention of former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan and journalist Evan Gershkovich and calling for their release.

“Today we send a strong message to Vladimir Putin that America—Republicans and Democrats alike—will not tolerate his corrupt regime holding U.S. citizens hostage under false pretenses,” Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) said on the House floor on June 12, prior to the votes.

Gershkovich, 31, is a Moscow-based correspondent for The Wall Street Journal (WSJ). He was arrested by the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) on March 29 on suspicion of spying for the U.S. government—a charge that Rep. Mike McCaul (R-Texas) said lacked evidence.

Gershkovich is the first American journalist to be detained in Russia since the Cold War.

Whelan, meanwhile, is a 53-year-old corporate security executive from Michigan. He was arrested in December 2018 and is currently serving a 16-year sentence at a maximum-security penal colony.

Child of Exiles

According to the WSJ website, Gershkovich has covered Russia, Ukraine, and the former Soviet Union for the outlet since January 2022. He also previously worked for Agence France-Presse, The Moscow Times, and The New York Times.

Following his arrest, the FSB claimed that Gershkovich was detained in Yekaterinburg “while attempting to obtain classified information.”

“It was established that Evan Gershkovich, acting at the request of the American side, collected information constituting a state secret about the activities of one of the enterprises of the Russian military-industrial complex,” the agency said in a statement.

But the U.S. government, WSJ, and Gershkovich’s family have all denied those claims.

McCaul, decrying Gershkovich’s imprisonment, said the charges that had been leveled against the reporter lacked evidence.

“No evidence has been presented to back up this accusation because there is no evidence,” McCaul said. “Evan is innocent. He was simply doing his job reporting on the news in Russia. But we know that the war criminal Putin doesn’t like that.”

Prior to his detainment, Gershkovich’s most recent stories covered Russia’s war with Ukraine and how the Russian economy was “starting to come undone” from the strain. He also co-authored an in-depth report on Putin in December.

That report, his mother, Ella Gershkovich, said, is what began to change her perspective on the dangers of her son’s work.

“I think when that article came out about Putin in December, [it] got me worried a lot,” she told WSJ in a recent video interview. “Like my mood was changing.”

Ella and Mikhail Gershkovich are both Jewish exiles of the former Soviet Union who emigrated to the United States separately in 1979. After meeting in New York, they eventually settled in New Jersey, where they raised their two children to love and respect the Russian traditions of their own upbringing.

Despite his family’s complicated history with the country, Mikhail Gershkovich said he did not speak with his son about the risks of being a journalist in Russia—a fact he now regrets.

“I trusted him—I trusted his judgment,” he said. “Of course, it makes things more difficult for me now because I feel that I’ve failed in some way as a father.”

Veteran Imprisoned

As for Whelan, the State Department marked the fourth anniversary of his detention in December, decrying the “unfathomable ordeal” the veteran has endured.

“Russian authorities subjected him to a secret trial and sentenced him to 16 years in a Russian penal colony based on secret evidence,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement. “His detention remains unacceptable, and we continue to press for his immediate release at every opportunity.”

Whelan was in Moscow for the wedding of a fellow Marine veteran on Dec. 28, 2018, when he was arrested on espionage charges. While the FSB said he was arrested while “on a spy mission,” he has maintained his innocence, insisting that he was set up.

The U.S. government has backed him in those claims, with then-U.S. Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan describing Whelan’s trial as a “mockery of justice.”

Previous attempts to secure Whelan’s release in a prisoner swap have failed, even amid Russia’

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