"Creative solutions": Russia would negotiate to exchange journalist Evan Gershkovich for the spies posing as Argentines

The couple of Russian spies posing as an Argentine couple could be part of an important exchange of Russian prisoners by the american journalist Evan Gershkovichof the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), who was arrested a week ago and charged with espionage in Russia.

the british newspaper The Guardian quoted an anonymous source who reported that “underground” negotiations are taking place between Moscow and the West to exchange suspected Russian spies arrested in Slovenia for prisoners in Russia. “While preparations are being made for a trial in Slovenia, clandestine negotiations are taking place between Moscow and Western countries to exchange them for a person or persons currently in prison in Russia,” the source was quoted as saying by the aforementioned newspaper.

A traditional family and an art gallery: the facade of Russian spies posing as Argentines

According to the Russian state agency RTthe United States currently has no Russian spies in its custody, explained the WSJ, and given the espionage charges Gershkovich faces, the Kremlin “may consider an exchange with any other prisoner who is not a match.” Along these lines, a senior White House official told the WSJ what USA he was “open to creative solutions” to secure the rescue of the journalist and Paul Whelan, a former US Marine convicted of espionage in Russia in 2020.

This plan could include the couple of Russian spies Maria Mayer and Ludwig Gisch, who were part of an elite Russian secret service and posed as Argentines. Both were arrested at the end of March in Slovenia, where they had set up an apparently normal life, which included their two small children.

Evan Gershkovich was arrested by the Russian authorities after being charged with espionage.

“Within what is legally available, we are constantly looking for what might be relevant or useful,” the official said. According to the WSJMoscow previously demanded that Washington would only exchange Whelan for a Russian person accused of a similar offense abroad.

Reports indicate that Russia had previously offered to hand him over for Vadim Krasikov, sentenced to life in prison in Germany for murder. However, back then USA he considered an agreement involving a third country impossible, but allegedly changed his position.

The WSJ list for the exchange with journalist Evan Gershkovich

In addition to Mayer and Gisch, the WSJ performed a list of possible candidates for the rescue of Gershkovich. One of the names that came to light was that of Sergey Cherkasov, a Russian man sentenced to 15 years in prison in Brazil for identity fraud. In addition, he was accused by the authorities of the South American country of being a Russian agent and Moscow requested his extradition. According to him WSJthe United States also indicated that it could request his extradition.

Another possibility for the American newspaper is Marat Kasem, a Russian media publisher accused of espionage and sanctions evasion in Latvia. However, in this case the WSJ He did not provide further details on how Washington could secure a deal involving any of these nations. In this sense, he only detailed that “there were no signs” that it would be something easy to carry out.

Maria Mayer had an online art gallery as a front.

He WSJ reported that the highest-profile Russians arrested in the United States have been charged with cybercrimes. In that sense, he mentioned as another alternative to Roman Seleznev, the son of a Russian lawmaker convicted in 2016 of hacking into hundreds of companies and selling stolen data online in a scheme that resulted in more than $169 million in fraud losses. Justice plans to release him in 2036, while his lawyer, Igor Litvak, stated that he really wants to recover the freedom of his client, whom he considered unjustly detained.

The other candidates according to the newspaper are Vladislav Klyushin y Aleksandr Vinnik. In Klyushin’s case, he is a Russian extradited to the United States from Switzerland in 2021 after being accused of obtaining $90 million through stock exchanges based on information stolen from Washington’s computer networks. For his part, Vinnik was arrested in 2017, first in Greece and then in France, before being extradited to the United States on suspicion of being behind the operation of an illicit cryptocurrency exchange.

“Let’s exchange him for Assange”: the proposal of a Russian deputy

According to RTthe deputy of the Russian Parliament, Sergey Obuhkov, suggested this Friday before the press that Moscow should release Gershkovich in exchange for the release of Julian Assangethe founder of WikiLeaks. “I mean, we exchanged it for Assange”told the agency RIA Novosti.

Assange could receive a sentence of up to 175 years behind bars.

Likewise, the legislator indicated that some members of the Duma already had proposed offering political asylum to the former US president Donald Trumpwho was charged with 34 criminal counts against him for “falsifying business records in the first degree,” in an exchange for Gershkovich.

Like the journalist arrested by the Kremlin, Assange also faces espionage charges. He editor of Wikileaks is indicted under the Espionage Act and wanted for the 2010 release of the “Collateral Murder” video, showing the US military killing civilians, as well as the leak of other classified Washington documents on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. If extradited and convicted, he could receive a sentence of up to 175 years behind bars.

The facade of Russian spies posing as Argentines

Maria Mayer and Ludwig Gisch lived with their two children in a house in Ljubliana, the Slovenian capital. The woman had an online art gallery, while her alleged husband ran a company that provided security software. However, fThey were arrested last December by the Slovenian authorities after an anonymous complaint, while the minors were referred to the social service of that country.

“The Suspects are members of a foreign intelligence service and used illegally obtained foreign identity documents to live and work in Slovenia under false identities and secretly collect information,” said Drago Menegalija, a spokesman for the Slovenian police.

Ludwig Gisch, like his alleged wife, posed as an Argentine.

According to the testimony of the neighbors, the couple led a normal life and they spoke English and Spanish, just like their alleged children. The couple had commented that they left Argentina in 2017 due to daily insecurity problems.

However, Mayer and Gisch worked for the Russian foreign intelligence service SVR. which, unlike Russian intelligence agents, operate with no visible ties to Moscow. These types of agents are trained for years to impersonate immigrants and then sent abroad to gather information. Their identities are absolutely secret and Not even their own children usually know that their parents are Russian.

The house of Russian spies in Slovenia.

According to The Guardian, Moscow quickly accepted that the couple were intelligence agents. With a weaker counterintelligence environment than many European countries and located within the Schengen free movement zone, Slovenia was a perfect base for the couple to travel across most of Europe without border controls.

At the couple’s residence they met large sums of cash that it could be the funds to pay Russian agents or informal informants.

The case of the American journalist detained in Russia for “espionage”

Evan Gershkovich was detained at the beginning of April by the Russian security services while carrying out a report in Yekaterinburg, in the Urals. The man was charged with collecting information on the Kremlin’s defense industry.

In this sense, investigators from the FSB, the Russian state security service that succeeded the KGB, accused Gershkovich of “espionage for the interests of your country”. He categorically denied all the accusations and stated that he was carrying out journalistic activities in Russia, according to the Russian agency TASS.

Likewise, the WSJ, his employer, also denied the accusations. Along these lines, the outlet quickly denounced the charges against Gershkovich as “categorically false.” “As we have said from the beginning, these charges are categorically false and unjustified and we will continue to demand Evan’s immediate release,” the New York newspaper said.

Evan Gershkovich denied the accusations against him.

Added to this, US authoritiesincluding Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken, demanded that the Kremlin release the journalist. However, the Moscow government assured the new US ambassador to Russia, Lynne Tracy, on Thursday that it was “useless” to press the issue. “The media hype around this matter (…) with the aim of putting pressure on the Russian authorities and on the court that will have to decide the fate of Evan Gershkovich is useless and senseless,” the Russian ministry said in a statement. Of Foreign Affairs.

Of Russian origin, the 31-year-old American journalist speaks Russian perfectly and his parents live in the United States. Before starting work for the Wall Street Journal in 2022, Gershkovich was a correspondent for AFP in Moscow. He had previously been hired by the English-language daily Moscow Times.


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