On Thursday, Russia’s Intelligence services arrested American citizen and reporter Evan Gershkovich who was working for The Wall Street Journal’s Moscow bureau. According to Russian media reports, Gershkovich was charged with espionage against the Russian state and is in custody until the end of May, pending an investigation by Russian officials.
The reporter was reporting in the Ural mountain city of Yekaterinburg and was detained by agents of Russia’s Federal Security Services (FSB), accusing him of engaging in “illegal activities” against the Russian states on behalf of the United States government.
The journalist has been covering Russia since 2017, working with The Moscow Times and the Agence France-Presse before joining The Wall Street Journal’s Moscow Bureau.
In a statement to reporters, the FSB explained that Gershkovich was not engaging in reporting news for the Wall Street Journal but secretly “acting on an assignment from the American side, was gathering information classified as a state secret about the activity of one of the enterprises of Russia’s military-industrial complex.” Officials note that the Ural mountain region in Russia is home to numerous Russian military factories, which have been heavily active since Russian President Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine in February last year.
Officials in the Russian Foreign Ministry also expressed their support for Gershkovich’s arrest, echoing statements from the FSB.
“Unfortunately, it’s not the first time the status of ‘foreign correspondent,’ a journalist visa, and accreditation has been used by foreigners in our country to cover for activities that have nothing to do with journalism,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova stated.
The Wall Street Journal responded to the charges against Gershkovich, stating that it “vehemently denies the allegations” and “seeks his immediate release.” In Moscow, the Kremlin told reporters that it was aware of the American journalist’s arrest but called it the “prerogative” of the FSB.
“The only thing I can say is that, as far as we’re aware, they caught him red-handed,” said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov to reporters. The spokesman for the Kremlin said that The Wall Street Journal could continue its reporting in Russia.
According to the Russian daily newspaper Kommersant, Gershkovich will be sent to the FSB’s pre-trial detention facility, Lefortovo prison in Moscow. Officials familiar with FSB detention say an individual can have a prison sentence of up to 20 years.
Since the invasion of Ukraine began last year, Putin’s government has arrested and detained domestic and international journalists reporting in Moscow, accusing them of spying for the West.
In Russia, pro-Putin journalists, media outlets, and commentators have portrayed the war as “successful” despite the reports of increasing casualties of Russian troops. With journalists in Moscow having their freedoms stripped, many journalists have left Russia to report the news on the battlefield in Ukraine, talking to Ukrainian and Russian soldiers to showcase the whole situation.
With Moscow preparing for a counteroffensive against Ukraine, Ukrainian officials have pleaded with the U.S. and the European Union (EU) to continue to provide military aid to deter Russian forces and allow Ukraine to regain lost territory.