Trump Plays Up His Putin Ties in Claiming He Could Get Gershkovich Released

Trump Plays Up His Putin Ties in Claiming He Could Get Gershkovich Released

Former President Donald J. Trump claimed that, if re-elected, he could draw on his relationship with President Vladimir V. Putin to press Russia into releasing Evan Gershkovich, the Wall Street Journal reporter who has been detained in a Moscow jail for more than a year.

Mr. Trump wrote in a social media post that Mr. Gershkovich would be “released almost immediately after the election, but definitely before I assume office,” suggesting that his securing Mr. Gershkovich’s release was contingent on his defeating President Biden in November.

“Vladimir Putin, President of Russia, will do that for me, but not for anyone else,” Mr. Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, added. Mr. Trump has frequently bragged about his positive relationship with Mr. Putin, whose strongman tendencies he has praised in interviews and on the campaign trail.

Asked about Mr. Trump’s post, a spokesman for the Kremlin, Dmitri S. Peskov, told reporters that “Putin has no contact with Donald Trump, of course.”

Mr. Gershkovich, who was arrested in March last year in Russia and charged with espionage shortly after, has been designated by the White House as “wrongfully detained,” a label signifying that the United States views him as the equivalent of a political hostage and believes the charges against him are fabricated.

Russia has not presented any evidence to support the spying charge, which Mr. Gershkovich and The Journal have vociferously rejected. The Biden administration has said it is working to secure his release.

His arrest was among a series of detentions of Americans in Russia over the past six years, which has raised concerns that Russia is hoping to use U.S. citizens as bargaining chips to secure the release of Russians being held in the West.

Mr. Trump often invokes his bond with Mr. Putin to bolster his claims that he could end the war in Ukraine, and that if he was still in office, the conflict would never have happened.

But while Mr. Trump has commented on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine many times, he had not spoken publicly about Mr. Gershkovich’s detention until last month, after he had been detained for more than a year.

In an interview with Time magazine, Mr. Trump explained his silence on the issue by saying: “I guess because I have so many things I’m working on. I have hundreds of things,” adding, “I probably have said very good things about him. Maybe it wasn’t reported.”

Mr. Trump also insisted then that he would be able to secure Mr. Gershkovich’s release more successfully than Mr. Biden because of his relationship with Mr. Putin. “I get along very well with Putin, but the reporter should be released and he will be released,” he said.

Russian officials have said that discussions about Mr. Gershkovich and other Americans detained in the country were being conducted “through a specialized closed channel.” The Kremlin spokesman, Mr. Peskov, on Thursday said that any conversations about Mr. Gershkovich’s release “must be conducted in complete silence and absolutely discreetly.” He added, “Only thus can they have a result.”

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Anton Troianovski contributed reporting.

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