Russia detains U.S. journalist on espionage charges

Evan Gershkovich, a reporter for the Wall Street Journal, who has been detained by Russia's Federal Security Services on espionage charges. Photo courtesy of Evan Gershkovich/LinkedIn
Evan Gershkovich, a reporter for the Wall Street Journal, who has been detained by Russia's Federal Security Services on espionage charges. Photo courtesy of Evan Gershkovich/LinkedIn

March 30 (UPI) -- The Wall Street Journal on Thursday rejected claims by Russia's Federal Security Service, or FSB, that its reporter Evan Gershkovich was acting as a spy for the U.S. government.

The FSB detained Gershkovich, who works as a Moscow-based correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, on Thursday in the Ural Mountains city of Yekaterinburg, located more than 1,000 miles east of Moscow, accusing him of gathering information that amounted to state secrets about its military.


"It has been established that E. Gershkovich, acting on behalf of the American side, collected information constituting a state secret about the activities of one of the enterprises of the Russian military-industrial complex," Russia's main security agency said.

Gershkovich entered a not-guilty plea in front of Moscow's Lefortovsky District Court on Thursday, according to the Russian state-run news outlet TASS. The court said Gershkovich was accused of "espionage, in the form of detention."


The court has classified his case as "top secret" and declined to release any additional information.

The Wall Street Journal said it "vehemently denies" the charges and called for his immediate release. The newspaper called Gershkovich a "trusted and dedicated reporter" and said it was "deeply concerned" for his safety.

In a statement on Telegram, Russia's Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova preemptively rejected criticism that his arrest violates freedom of the press principles by stating Gershkovich's work in Yekaterinburg "had nothing to do with journalism."

"This is not the first case when foreigners use the status of a 'foreign correspondent,' journalist visas and accreditation in our country as a cover-up for undertaking actions that are not related to journalism," she said.

"And he was not the first Western national to be caught red-handed," she added, without elaborating.

When asked about details over Gershkovich's arrest in a news briefing Thursday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov declined to elaborate.

″This is the prerogative of the FSB," Peskov said. "There has already been a statement from them, we have nothing to add here. The only thing I can add is that as far as we know, he was caught red-handed."


Peskov said the arrest was not a sign of Russia clamping down more on news reporting in the country.

"Those who carry out normal journalistic activities -- of course, if they have a valid accreditation, they will continue to work," Peskov said. "There will be no problems with them."

Gershkovich, who was accredited by Russia to work in the country as a journalist, is believed to be the first American reporter to be detained in the country on espionage charges since the fall of the Soviet Union.

"By detaining the American journalist Evan Gershkovich, Russia has crossed the Rubicon and sent a clear message to foreign correspondents that they will not be spared from the ongoing purge of the independent media in the country," "Gulnoza Said, the Committee to Protect Journalists's Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, said in a statement, while urging the Russian authorities to "immediately and unconditionally release Gershkovich, drop all charges against him and let the media work freely and without fear of reprisal."

President Joe Biden has been briefed on Gershkovich's arrest and White House staff have spoken with The Wall Street Journal, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters Thursday afternoon during a press conference.


"This espionage charges are ridiculous," she said. "The targeting of American citizens by Russian government is unacceptable. We condemn the detention of Mr. Gershkovich in the strongest terms. We also condemn the Russian government's continued targeting and repression of journalists."

Reporters Without Borders, the journalist organization that fights for freedom of the press, tweeted that Gershkovich was investigating the Wagner mercenary group that has troops on the ground fighting in the Kremlin's war in Ukraine when he was arrested.

"RSF is alarmed by what looks like retaliation," the organization said. "Journalists must not be targeted!"

The United States has been warning Americans not to travel to Russia and those there to leave due to the "unpredictable consequences" of the Kremlin's war in Ukraine and the potential for harassment and detention of U.S. citizens by the Russian government.

Jean-Pierre said the U.S. embassy in Moscow has been speaking with the Russian foreign ministry about Gershkovich's arrest.

His arrest also comes less than a week after the United States charged 37-year-old Russian national Sergey Vladimirovich Cherkasov for spying for Russia.

Cherkasov was arrested in Brazil last April on charges of identity theft and fraud after being turned away from the Netherlands where he had travelled to days earlier to start an internship with the International Criminal Court, according to the U.S. indictment.


Gershkovich's detainment also follows the United States securing the release of WMBA star and Olympian Brittney Griner in December. Griner was arrested on drug smuggling charges on landing in Russia days before the Kremlin launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022.

The United States secured her release in a prison swap with Russia in exchange for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.

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