The US president dismissed demands from the Wall Street Journal, but called for Moscow to release detained American journalist Evan Gershkovich
US President Joe Biden has urged Russia to release Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, who was arrested in the city of Ekaterinburg this week on suspicion of espionage. At the same time, Biden rejected a call by the newspaper to expel Russian journalists or Moscow's ambassador in Washington as a retaliatory step.
Biden spoke briefly about the unfolding row on Friday before boarding Marine One to fly to a Mississippi town recently devastated by a tornado.
"Let him go," the US leader replied when asked what his message to Moscow was regarding the detained journalist.
Asked whether his administration planned to expel Russian diplomats or journalists, as proposed by the WSJ, Biden said: "That's not the plan right now."
Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) announced on Thursday that Gershkovich had been detained in Ekaterinburg while allegedly attempting to collect classified information about a Russian defense producer. The reporter is suspected of espionage on behalf of the US government, a charge that could carry a prison term of up to 20 years.
The WSJ rejected the allegation as "dubious on its face" and claimed that the Russian government had taken Gershkovich "hostage" in preparation for a future prisoner exchange.
"The Biden Administration will have to consider diplomatic and political escalation. Expelling Russia's ambassador to the US, as well as all Russian journalists working here, would be the minimum to expect," the newspaper declared in an editorial on Thursday.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Friday that the proposed retaliation would be "absurd and wrong," and reiterated the claim that Gershkovich had been caught "red-handed."