In what marks the first American journalist accused of espionage since the Cold War, Evan Gershkovich – a reporter for the Wall Street Journal based in Moscow – was reported to be detained on Thursday by Russian forces. The charges, made by the Federal Security Service (FSB), are fueled by the belief that Gershkovich was trying to acquire state secrets from the country. With the FSB’s accusations, a Russian district court has exuded a decision requiring Gershkovich’s detention up until May 29.
This turn of events gives rise to the largest investigation of US-Russian relations since the Cold War. Adding to the stratifying drama is the recent conviction of Sergey Cherkasov, a Russian spy indicted in federal court by the US just last week. Along with these events have come the discussions of a potential tit-for-tat move from the Kremlin – while they have yet to comment, the US has not taken any official stance towards the Russian Federation regarding the allegations made against Gershkovich.
Gershkovich has a long-standing relationship with journalism, covering the Russian, Ukrainian, and former Soviet Union regions for Agence France-Presse, The Moscow Times, and The New York Times, as well as his current position with the Wall Street Journal. It is noteworthy that this instances follows other pressures Western countries have noticed from Russian President Vladimir Putin, including references to his nuclear arsenal, and the full-scale invasion of Ukraine Putin initiated last year.
Along with Gershkovich’s current situation, there is the case of Paul Whelan, who has been detained in Moscow at a hotel since December 2018, and faces accusations of involvement in an intelligence operation. The American has been sentenced to 16 years in a Russian prison, with US officials calling into question the fairness of the trial. Last month, Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressed that a “serious proposal” had been expressed to the Kremlin, with concern noted by Paul’s brother David in regards to his case.
In response to Gershkovich’s imprisonment, the National Press Club has expressed their condemnation of the detention as “unjust,” and called for the US State Department to take action. The European Union’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, expressed similar views on the matter, and expressed his belief that journalists are entitled to the freedom to exercise their profession without harassment.
Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Sergei Ryabkov, sung a different tune, stating that it was premature to consider a prisoner exchange for Gershkovich. Beyond that, the US Embassy has requested for the official notification of the journalist’s arrest, which can be done with the fulfillment of the bilateral consular convention.
The US authorities, led by the Biden administration, have stayed in contact with Gershkovich’s family and with US lawmakers, and Secretary of State Blinken has continued the conversation with the Russian officials.