For the first time since the Cold War, an American journalist is detained for allegations of espionage in Moscow, Russia.
This Wall Street Journal reporter is Evan Gershkovich, who, according to his biography on the Wall Street Journal, covers Russia, Ukraine, and the former Soviet Union. He also previously worked for Agence France-Presse, the Moscow Times, and the New York Times.
He was detained in the Ural Mountains city of Yekaterinburg while allegedly trying to obtain classified information, and it was said by a Russian district court in Moscow that he would be detained until May 29.
Russia’s main security service, the Federal Security Service (FSB), claimed that the correspondent based in Moscow had been – supposedly “acting on the instructions of the American side” – trying to obtain state secrets relating to “the activities of one of the enterprises of the Russian military-industrial complex.”
He could face up to 20 years in prison if convicted of espionage, and lawyers note that past investigations of cases such as his took a year to 18 months, during which “he may have little contact with the outside world.” The Wall Street Journal also published that “In Russia, espionage trials are often conducted in secret, and it is rare for a court to acquit a defendant. Trials can take months to unfold.”
The Wall Street Journal, with whom the Biden administration has already spoken, rejects and denies the allegations and demands his release, and White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre condemned the arrest as well. While also urging Americans not to travel to Russia. She also expressed that the State Department had been in direct touch with the Russian government and seeking access to the reporter.
“In the strongest possible terms, we condemn the Kremlin’s continued attempts to intimidate, repress, and punish journalists and civil society voices,” said the Secretary of State, Antony Blinken
Gershkovich is the first American reporter to be arrested on espionage charges in Russia since September 1986, when a Moscow correspondent for the U.S. was arrested and released 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.
However, this may not be the case since Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov ruled out any quick swap: “I wouldn’t even consider this issue now because people who were previously swapped had already served their sentences,”
An example of this is WNBA star Brittney Griner, who was freed after 10 months behind bars in exchange for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout in December 2022.
Gershkovich’s arrest comes at an inopportune time: “amid escalating tensions between the United States and Russia over President Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine.” This being said, The Wall Street Journal also expressed that this case is expected to heighten tensions between Moscow and Washington. And we can already see how the very profession of reporting is being criminalized in Russia, including the opposition to the war by ordinary citizens of Russia: “Earlier this week, a Russian court convicted a father over social media posts critical of the war and sentenced him to two years in prison. His 13-year-old daughter was sent to an orphanage.” It seems like not only reporting but living in Russia has become much more difficult and dangerous.