Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov avoided directly answering a question about a possible prisoner swap for Americans Paul Whelan and Evan Gershkovich, instead mentioning several Russian nationals who are currently being held in US prisons.
"We have approximately 60 people who are serving sentences here. And in most cases, the accusations are dubious," Lavrov said.
"They didn't deign to comply with the requirements of the bilateral consular convention, under which if they have any suspicions about Russian citizens, then they need to be not abducted like it's done in Hollywood films, but they need to turn to the Russian Federation and they need to lay out their concerns," Lavrov said.
Some background on the two cases: Wall Street Journal reporter Gershkovich was arrested in March and faces up to 20 years in prison on espionage charges, which the newspaper vehemently denies. Whelan, a former Marine who is a US, Irish, British and Canadian citizen, was detained at a Moscow hotel in December 2018 by Russian authorities who alleged he was involved in an intelligence operation. He was convicted and sentenced in June 2020 to 16 years in prison.
The US State Department has designated both Gershkovich and Whelan as wrongfully detained, which Lavrov again said that Russia rejected.
"In the Russian Federation, there are several American citizens who are serving sentences for various crimes," Lavrov said. "I refer to Paul Whelan and Evan Gershkovich. They were detained when they were committing a crime: receiving material that was a state secret. And the vociferous, pathos-laced statements about journalists by definition not being able to commit crimes is something which we reject."
Lavrov added he believes those cases should be dealt with privately.
"The channel for the discussion of these matters exists. This is work that is not public in nature, and publicity here will only complicate the process for reasons which are understandable and there's no need to tell you professionals about why," Lavrov said.
Lavrov is in New York for the meeting of the UN Security Council, as Russia currently holds the rotating presidency of the council.