Chris Lange, FISM News
Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday again called for the immediate release of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich and former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, both of whom are detained in Russia on espionage charges.
“In my own mind, there’s no doubt that he’s being wrongfully detained by Russia, which is exactly what I said to Russian Foreign Minister [Sergey] Lavrov, when I spoke to him over the weekend and insisted that Evan be released immediately,” Blinken said at a press briefing at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium.
Gershkovich was detained by Russian authorities last month, though he had press credentials in the country. Meanwhile, Whelan has been languishing in a Russian prison since 2018.
Blinken said that the State Department is working through the determination of a wrongful detention process on behalf of Gershkovich. This designation essentially places cases of U.S. citizens detained by foreign governments under the purview of the State Department’s special unit tasked with negotiating captive release.
“It’s something that we’re working through very deliberately, but expeditiously as well. And I’ll let that process play out,” he said.
Blinken also noted that the U.S. proposed a deal “some months” ago to Russia for the release of Whelan.
The Biden administration has faced criticism for last year’s deal with Russia to secure the release of WNBA star Brittney Griner in exchange for notorious Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, in terms of potentially emboldening adversarial nations to kidnap U.S. citizens abroad.
House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby essentially admitted as much during an appearance on Monday’s debut broadcast of NewsNation’s “Elizabeth Vargas Reports.”
Asked if such concerns were valid, Kirby stated that it’s difficult to show “some sort of mathematical case to prove” that the Griner-Bout swap is encouraging further kidnapping of U.S. citizens but admitted that “there are some autocrats around the world that might be thinking that way.”
US, BRITISH DIPLOMATS WALK OUT OF UN SPEECH IN PROTEST
Russia’s commissioner for children’s rights, Maria Lvova-Belova, pushed Moscow’s narrative that alleged abductions of Ukrainian children by Russia are actually part of a humanitarian effort during Wednesday’s U.N. Security Council meeting. The International Criminal Court (ICC) issued arrest warrants last month for Lvova-Belova and Russian President Vladimir Putin on charges of war crimes related to the abductions and “re-education” of Ukrainian children.
Lvova-Belova, who attended the meeting by video, acknowledged that roughly 5 million Ukrainians, including 700,000 children, had “traveled” to Russia since February 2022. She also showed council members a video of Ukrainian children, according to Reuters, presumably as evidence of their well-being.
“I want to stress that unlike the Ukrainian side, we don’t use children for propaganda,” she said.
U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield and British diplomat Asima Ghazi-Bouillon walked out of the meeting in protest as Lvova-Belova was about to speak.
“Russia claims it is protecting these children. Instead, this is a calculated policy that seeks to erase Ukrainian identity and statehood,” Ghazi-Bouillon told the council when she returned to the room.
Lvova-Belova’s address coincided with Russia’s scheduled takeover of the rotating presidency of the U.N. Security Council.
PUTIN SACKS TOP MILITARY COMMANDER
Russia’s Russian Ministry of Defense has reportedly fired the commander of its Eastern Group of Forces (EFG), Colonel-General Rustam Muradov, over Moscow’s heavy losses in eastern Ukraine.
While the Kremlin has neither confirmed nor denied Muradov’s reported ousting, The British Defense Ministry said in its daily war update Thursday that the subject was trending on Russian social media.
“The EGF under Muradov has suffered exceptionally heavy casualties in recent months as its poorly conceived assaults repeatedly failed to capture the Donetsk Oblast town of Vuhledar,” the ministry said.
British intelligence officials predicted that more dismissals will likely follow as Russia continues to fail to achieve its objectives in the Donbas.
EU WARNS BEIJING SUPPORT FOR RUSSIA COULD HARM TRADE RELATIONS
The vice president of the European Union (EU) Chamber of Commerce in China has put Beijing on notice that further support for Russia in its invasion of Ukraine could have a deleterious impact on trade relations between Europe and China.
“I think both of the leaders will impress upon the Chinese leadership that right now everything is being viewed through the lens of Ukraine,” Jens Eskelund told CNBC.
“It should not be underestimated — the potential impact it could have also on European-China trade — if we see further expressions of support from China for Russia in its aggression against Ukraine. This point will be made clear.”
The White House said it has not seen any evidence that Beijing has agreed to provide Moscow with lethal aid.
“We haven’t seen any indication that they’ve provided lethal weapon capabilities to Mr. Putin. And look for us, it’s actions, not words,” National security council spokesman John Kirby said on a call with reporters.
“We’re just going to keep watching it and monitoring it,” he said, declining to speculate on any potential U.S. retaliation if Beijing provided support to Russia.
The U.S. and its allies have repeatedly expressed concerns that Chinese President Xi Jinping could give Russia weapons to shore up its dwindling stocks as part of Beijing’s “no limits partnership” with Moscow. Such a move could turn the tide of the grinding war decisively in the Kremlin’s favor. The West — particularly the U.S. — has a vested interest in seeing Russia defeated and has injected tens of billions of dollars into Ukraine’s defense to make that happen.