In an interview released on Thursday, Tucker Carlson urged President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia to release an American reporter for The Wall Street Journal who has been held in a notorious Moscow prison for nearly a year.
Mr. Carlson’s appeal on behalf of the reporter, Evan Gershkovich, was only the second time that Mr. Putin directly addressed a case that has galvanized press freedom groups and strained diplomatic relations with the United States.
Large portions of the two-hour interview were taken up by Mr. Putin’s recounting hundreds of years of Russian history. But in the final minutes, Mr. Carlson asked, “as a sign of your decency,” if he “would be willing to release him to us and we’ll bring him back to the United States.” Mr. Carlson added: “This guy’s obviously not a spy. He’s a kid, and maybe he was breaking your law in some way, but he’s not a superspy, and everybody knows that.”
Mr. Putin was noncommittal in his response. “We have done so many gestures of good will out of decency that I think we have run out of them,” he said, according to a translation of his remarks by Mr. Carlson’s team.
Pressed about the case by Mr. Carlson, Mr. Putin later added: “I also want him to return to his homeland at last. I’m absolutely sincere. But let me say once again, the dialogue continues.”
The Russian leader suggested that he wanted additional concessions from American officials before he would consider releasing Mr. Gershkovich. Mr. Putin suggested that he might be willing to trade the reporter for Vadim Krasikov, a Russian citizen sentenced to life in prison in Germany for the 2019 murder of a Chechen former separatist fighter in Berlin.
Mr. Gershkovich, 32, was the first American journalist to be arrested on a spying charge in Russia since the end of the Cold War, and the U.S. government has designated him as “wrongfully detained,” meaning he is essentially considered a political prisoner.
He was arrested in March in the Russian city of Yekaterinburg and accused of espionage, an allegation that The Journal and American authorities have strenuously denied. Since then, he has been held at the notorious Lefortovo Prison in Moscow pending a trial.
The Journal is owned by the family of Rupert Murdoch, who also controls Mr. Carlson’s former employer, Fox News. “We’re encouraged to see Russia’s desire for a deal that brings Evan home, and we hope this will lead to his rapid release and return to his family and our newsroom,” the newspaper said in a statement on Thursday after the broadcast of the Putin interview.
Last month, Mr. Gershkovich, who once worked for The New York Times as a news assistant, was ordered to stay in prison until at least March 30, the fourth time that his detention has been extended. The Russian authorities have indicated that they might be open to a prisoner swap for him, but only after a verdict in his case.
In December, Valerie Hopkins, a correspondent for The Times, asked Mr. Putin at a news conference about Mr. Gershkovich’s case. The Russian leader answered only vaguely. “We want to make a deal, but it should be mutually acceptable to both sides,” he said, adding, “I hope we’ll find a solution.”
In Thursday’s interview, Mr. Putin offered a similarly hazy answer to Mr. Carlson. “I do not rule out that the person you refer to, Mr. Gershkovich, may return to his motherland,” Mr. Putin said. “But we have to come to an agreement.”
“I hope you let him out,” Mr. Carlson replied.