Russia has arrested Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, claiming to have caught the U.S. citizen spying “red-handed.”
Gershkovich, 31, who works at the Journal’s Moscow bureau, was detained in the Ural Mountains city of Yekaterinburg on Wednesday while on a reporting trip, the Journal reported.
Russia’s Federal Security Bureau, a successor to the Soviet KGB, accused Gershkovich of trying to obtain classified information.
The agency claimed that “acting on the instructions of the American side, collected information constituting a state secret about the activities of one of the enterprises of the Russian military-industrial complex,” the Journal said. The reporter is accredited to work as a journalist in Russia by the country’s foreign ministry, the Journal said.
Gershkovich was taken to Moscow by Russian authorities and appeared in court with a state-appointed defense attorney and was ordered held in custody until May 29, the Journal said, citing Russia’s TASS news agency. Gershkovich pleaded not guilty, according to TASS.
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 Associated Press reported.
“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 Journal said. “We stand in solidarity with Evan and his family.”
It’s the first time a U.S. correspondent has been detained on spying accusations since the Cold War, according to The AP.
The Journal said that the nature of the charges — the serious allegation of espionage rather than lesser charges related to media laws or defaming the military — “means the case is likely to become a high-level diplomatic issue.”
In December, the U.S. exchanged notorious arms smuggler Viktor Bout — known as the “merchant of death” and the inspiration for the 2005 Nicolas Cage flick “Lord of War” — for WNBA star Brittney Griner after the Olympic champion was detained for months following her arrest for carrying vape canisters containing cannabis oil in her luggage. Griner had been sentenced to nine years and was held for nine months.
Russia also still holds U.S. citizen Paul Whelan, a former U.S. Marine, on espionage charges since 2018.
Gershkovich joined the Journal in January 2022 after working in Moscow since 2017, first for the Moscow Times and then for Agence France-Presse. His resume includes a stint as a news assistant in New York for the New York Times. A graduate of Bowdoin College, he most recently wrote about the impact of Western sanctions on Russia’s economy.