“Espionage allegation” – Russia detains US reporter for information on Wagner


Sounds like something out of a spy thriller, but it’s reality. Russian authorities have arrested an American reporter for the Wall Street Journal who is allowed to conduct official investigations in the country. The reason: the domestic secret service FSB accused him of espionage. It is the most serious publicly known act against a foreign journalist since the start of the war in Ukraine.

The Russian secret service FSB wants to stop the “illegal activities of US citizen Evan Gershkovich”, he said on Thursday. However, the newspaper “firmly rejected” the allegations against the 31-year-old, the organization Reporters Without Borders was “concerned” and the US government “strongly condemned” the man’s arrest.

Journalist currently in custody
According to the FSB, Gershkovich was detained in Yekaterinburg “in an attempt to obtain classified information”. The city is located 1800 kilometers east of Moscow. In a closed session before a court in Moscow’s Lefortovo district, Gershkovich pleaded not guilty, according to the Russian news agency Tass. The court ordered a pre-trial detention of almost two months until May 29.

Gershkovich’s lawyer, Daniil Berman, told reporters outside the courtroom that he had not been admitted to the hearing. Gershkovich is likely being held in the Lefortovo detention center, which is often used by the FSB.

The correspondent of the Wall Street Journal’s Moscow office, accredited to Russia’s foreign ministry, is suspected of “espionage in the interest of the US government,” according to the FSB. The 31-year-old is suspected of collecting information “about a company belonging to the military-industrial complex” in Russia. Russia has drastically tightened its media laws after the invasion of Ukraine began. Under the Russian Penal Code, charges can now carry a prison sentence of 10 to 20 years.

Official site claims to have “caught” journalist.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Gershkovich had been caught in the act. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov also stressed that it was not mere suspicions, the American reporter was actually “caught”. Peskow has not provided any specific information. The Kremlin spokesman warned the US against reprisals against Russian journalists: “We hope it doesn’t come to that and it shouldn’t.”

The Wall Street Journal “vehemently” denied the allegations against its reporter, saying it was “deeply concerned for Mr. Gershkovich’s safety”. Reporters Without Borders said it was “concerned about what appears to be retaliation”. According to the organization, the 31-year-old was investigating “the Wagner military company,” a group of mercenaries that plays an important role in the Russian offensive in Ukraine.

White House furious
“The persecution of US citizens by the Russian government is unacceptable,” the White House said Thursday. The US State Department is deeply concerned and is in direct contact with the Russian government and is actively seeking to grant Gershkovich consular access.

The US government warns against traveling to Russia
On Wednesday evening (local time), U.S. government representatives spoke with Gershkovich’s employer, the Wall Street Journal. They are also in contact with the journalist’s family.

US President Joe Biden’s spokeswoman also stressed that Americans should heed the US government’s warning not to travel to Russia.

Before joining the Wall Street Journal last year, Gershkovich was a correspondent for the AFP news agency in Moscow. He previously worked for the Moscow Times, an English-language news portal. Gershkovich is Russian by birth, his family emigrated to the United States when he was a child.

Escalation of suppression of critical voices
The 31-year-old’s arrest represents an escalation in the Kremlin’s efforts to silence alleged critics. Western journalists face increasing restrictions in Russia. Employees of Western media sometimes report shadows – especially when traveling outside the metropolitan areas of Moscow and St. Petersburg. Many Russians are hesitant to talk to foreign media because of the harsh censorship laws enacted in the aftermath of the Ukrainian offensive.

Russian journalists are also under increasing pressure
Russian journalists are also accused of espionage by the Russian authorities. Last year, former investigative journalist Ivan Safronov was sentenced to 22 years in prison for allegedly leaking state secrets.

“The problem is the fact that the way the FSB interprets espionage today means that anyone who is simply interested in military affairs can face 20 years in prison,” Russian political scientist Tatyana Stanovaya told the Facebook online service. This includes “military special operations (in Ukraine)” and “private military groups (such as Wagner)”.

Hostage for prisoner exchange?
However, according to Stanovaya, the FSB may have taken Gershkovich as a “hostage” in a possible prisoner exchange. Several US citizens are currently being held in Russia. Washington and Moscow have accused each other of politically motivated arrests. In 2020, former US soldier Paul Whelan was sentenced in Russia to 16 years in prison on charges of “espionage”. The US demands his release. The most recent prisoner exchange between Washington and Moscow took place last December. At that time, Russia released American basketball player Brittney Griner in exchange for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.

Source: Krone


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