Russia arrests Wall Street Journal reporter on spying charge

Russia’s security service has arrested an American reporter for The Wall Street Journal on espionage charges, the first time a US correspondent has been detained on spying accusations since the Cold War.

The newspaper denied the allegations.

Evan Gershkovich was detained in the Ural Mountains city of Yekaterinburg while allegedly trying to obtain classified information, the Federal Security Service, known by the acronym FSB, said Thursday.

The service, which is the top domestic security agency and main successor to the Soviet-era KGB, alleged that Gershkovich “was acting on the US orders to collect information about the activities of one of the enterprises of the Russian military-industrial complex that constitutes a state secret”.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Wednesday: “It is not about a suspicion, is it about the fact that he was caught red-handed”.

“The Wall Street Journal vehemently denies the allegations from the FSB and seeks the immediate release of our trusted and dedicated reporter, Evan Gershkovich,” the newspaper said.

“We stand in solidarity with Evan and his family.”

The arrest comes at a moment of bitter tensions between the West and Moscow over its war in Ukraine and as the Kremlin intensifies a crackdown on opposition activists, independent journalists and civil society groups. The sweeping campaign of repression is unprecedented since the Soviet era.

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 while his 13-year-old daughter was sent to an orphanage.

Gershkovich is the first American reporter to be arrested on espionage charges in Russia since September 1986, when Nicholas Daniloff, a Moscow correspondent for US 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.

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Daniil Berman, the lawyer of arrested Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, speaks to journalists near the Lefortovsky court, in Moscow, Russia, Thursday, March 30, 2023. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko) (AP)

At a hearing on Thursday, a Moscow court quickly ruled to keep Gershkovich behind bars pending the investigation, according to the official Telegram channel of the capital’s courts.

While previous American detainees have been freed in prisoner swaps, a top Russian official said it was way too early to talk about any such deal.

There was no immediate public comment from Washington, although a US official indicated the U.S. government was aware of the situation and awaiting more information from Russia.

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