What We Know About Russia's Arrest of a US Journalist

Evan Gershkovich is accused of spying, a charge the 'Wall Street Journal' refutes
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 30, 2023 12:02 PM CDT
What We Know About Russia's Arrest of a US Journalist
American reporter Evan Gershkovich is escorted by officers from a courthouse in Moscow on Thursday, March 30, 2023.   (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

American journalist Evan Gershkovich is now the subject of news stories rather than the reporter of them. On Thursday, he became the first US journalist held as an alleged spy in Russia since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Here is what is known about his case:

  • Charges: Moscow says Gershkovich, "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,” per a statement from its FSB agency. “We’re not talking about suspicions,” adds Dmitri S. Peskov, spokesman for Vladimir Putin, per NBC News. “He was caught red-handed.” Russia has provided no details.
  • Denial: Gershkovich works for the Wall Street Journal, which issued a statement saying it “vehemently denies the allegations" and stands "in solidarity with Evan and his family.” Gershkovich was detained in the city of Yekaterinburg and was later whisked out of a courtroom in Moscow. The BBC talks to a Russian political expert who says that what Russia views as spying might simply have been Gershkovich talking to sources for his stories; the "American side" could well have been his bosses at the Journal. In other words, he might have been acting as a reporter, not a spy.
  • About him: The 31-year-old Gershkovich, a graduate of Bowdoin College in Maine, has covered Russia for the Journal for more than a year. He previously worked for Agence France-Presse and the Moscow Times, and his bio page notes he was also a news assistant for the New York Times. His most recent story for the Journal, published earlier this week, is headlined "Russia's Economy Is Starting to Come Undone." Since the war in Ukraine began, Putin has been cracking down on negative press coverage, and many Western outlets have scaled back their coverage from Russia.
  • Now what: Don't expect a quick resolution. The AP notes that espionage cases can take more than a year to unfold in Russia—and they almost always end in conviction. At that point, Russia typically puts out feelers for a prisoner swap, notes the New York Times. Gershkovich is expected to remain in custody all the while. He faces 20 years in prison on the charges. The US government had not officially commented on the arrest as of Thursday morning.
(More Russia stories.)

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