Russia’s security service has arrested an American reporter for The Wall Street Journal on espionage charges, the first time a U.S. correspondent has been detained on spying accusations since the Cold War.
The reporter, Evan Gershkovich, was detained in the city of Yekaterinburg while allegedly trying to obtain classified information, the Federal Security Service, known by the acronym FSB, disclosed on Thursday, March 30, 2023.
The service, which is the top domestic security agency and main successor to the Soviet-era KGB, alleged that Gershkovich “was acting on instructions from the American side to collect information about the activities of one of the enterprises of the Russian military-industrial complex that constitutes a state secret.”
Gershkovich is the first American reporter to be arrested on espionage charges in Russia since September 1986, when Nicholas Daniloff, a Moscow correspondent for U.S. News and World Report, was arrested by the KGB.
Daniloff was released without charge 20 days later in a swap for an employee of the Soviet Union’s United Nations mission who was arrested by the FBI, also on spying charges.
Gershkovich speaks fluent Russian and had previously worked for the French news agency, Agence France-Presse and The New York Times.
At a hearing on Thursday, March 30, 2023, a Moscow court quickly ruled that Gershkovich would be kept behind bars pending the investigation.
In Washington, the Biden administration divulged that it had spoken with the Journal and Gershkovich’s family. White House Press Secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre condemned the arrest “in the strongest terms” and urged Americans to heed government warnings not to travel to Russia.
Jean-Pierre added that the State Department was in direct touch with the Russian government and was seeking access to Gershkovich.
The newspaper denied the allegations and demanded his release. The Journal “vehemently denies the allegations from the FSB and seeks the immediate release of our trusted and dedicated reporter, Evan Gershkovich. We stand in solidarity with Evan and his family,” the newspaper noted.
Gershkovich, who covers Russia, Ukraine and other ex-Soviet nations as a correspondent in the Journal’s Moscow bureau, could face up to 20 years in prison if convicted of espionage.
Prominent lawyers noted that past investigations into espionage cases took a year to 18 months, during which time he may have little contact with the outside world.
Seeming Retaliation Measure Against U.S
Jeanne Cavelier, of the press freedom group, Reporters Without Borders, opined that Gershkovich’s arrest “looks like a retaliation measure of Russia against the United States.”
Cavelier, Head of Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk at the Paris-based group, said, “We are very alarmed because it is probably a way to intimidate all Western journalists that are trying to investigate aspects of the war on the ground in Russia.”
Kremlin Spokesman, Dmitry Peskov told reporters, “It is not about a suspicion, it is about the fact that he was caught red-handed.”
The FSB noted that Gershkovich had accreditation from the Russian Foreign Ministry to work as a journalist, but Ministry Spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova alleged that Gershkovich was using his credentials as cover for “activities that have nothing to do with journalism.”
His last report from Moscow, published earlier this week, focused on the Russian economy’s slowdown amid Western sanctions imposed after Russian troops invaded Ukraine last year.
Ivan Pavlov, a prominent Russian Defense Attorney who has worked on many espionage and treason cases, said Gershkovich’s case is the first criminal espionage charge against a foreign journalist in post-Soviet Russia.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister, Sergei Ryabkov ruled out any quick prisoner swap. According to Russian news agencies, Ryabkov said, “I wouldn’t even consider this issue now because people who were previously swapped had already served their sentences.”
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