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Russia arrests American WSJ journalist for alleged spying; first time since Cold War

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during his address to the nation at the Kremlin in Moscow on Feb. 21, 2022. (ALEXEY NIKOLSKY/Sputnik/AFP via Getty Images/TNS)
March 30, 2023

Russian authorities arrested a Wall Street Journal reporter this week due to suspicions of  spying. The arrest marks the first time Russia has detained an American journalist for alleged spying since the Cold War.

Russia’s Federal Security Bureau claimed reporter Evan Gershkovich was “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.”

Gershkovich was detained in Yekaterinburg, a city roughly 900 miles from Moscow, on Wednesday, according to The Wall Street Journal.

“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.”

Russian authorities transported Gershkovich to Moscow where he was assigned a state-appointed defense attorney. During his first court appearance, Gershkovich reportedly pleaded not guilty. He was ordered to remain in custody until May 29 and the case is considered top secret, state news agency TASS reported.

“It’s a new low in the U.S.-Russia relationship,” said Alexander Gabuev, director of the Carnegie Russia Eurasia Center, adding that the arrest of an American reporter “is really setting a precedent.”

READ MORE: Marine vet still imprisoned in Russia: ‘Don’t know why I’m still sitting here’ after Griner back in America

When asked about a potential prisoner exchange, Deputy Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said it was too soon to discuss such measures.

“I would not even raise the question right now,” Ryabkov said. “We’ll see how this story develops further.”

Late last year, U.S. women’s basketball player Brittney Griner was freed from prison in Russia on in a one-for-one exchange for the U.S. release of convicted arms dealer Viktor Bout. Paul Whelan, a U.S. Marine veteran who has been held by Russia since 2018, remains in Russian custody.

Griner had just began serving a nine-year prison sentence at a penal colony in Russia’s Mordovia Region when she was released in the exchange. The American basketball player received the sentence after she was arrested in Moscow in February 2022 after Russian authorities discovered hashish cannabis oil in her luggage, which is considered an illegal drug in Russia.

David Whelan, Paul’s brother, wrote at the time, “I can’t even fathom how Paul will feel when he learns. Paul has worked so hard to survive nearly 4 years of this injustice. His hopes had soared with the knowledge that the US government was taking concrete steps for once towards his release. He’d been worrying about where he’d live when he got back to the US.”

“And now what? How do you continue to survive, day after day, when you know that your government has failed twice to free you from a foreign prison?” he added. “I can’t imagine he retains any hope that a government will negotiate his freedom at this point. It’s clear that the US government has no concessions that the Russian government will take for Paul Whelan. And so Paul will remain a prisoner until that changes.”