What happened? Evan Gershkovich, a reporter for The Wall Street Journal, was detained and accused of espionage by Russia’s Federal Security Bureau (FSB) last Wednesday. Gershkovich was arrested while on a reporting trip in the Russian city of Yekaterinburg. He could face up to 20 years in prison and hasn’t been allowed access to the lawyer the Journal hired for him.
Evan Gershkovich: Gershkovich, 31, was hired as a Moscow correspondent for the Journal in January 2022. A month later, Russia invaded Ukraine. Journalism in Russia became dangerous—Gershkovich was followed and filmed by Russian security officers and unidentified men on two reporting assignments. In July 2022, he tweeted: “Reporting on Russia is now also a regular practice of watching people you know get locked away for years.”
Motivations: Some speculate that Gershkovich was arrested to cut a deal with the U.S. government, which is common among adversarial governments. Last year, the U.S. released Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout in exchange for U.S. basketball star Brittney Griner, who had been held in Russia for 10 months after bringing marijuana into the country. In March, the U.S. announced charges against Sergey Cherkasov, an alleged Russian spy. The Kremlin declined to respond when asked whether Gershkovich’s arrest was connected to Cherkasov’s charges.
Implications: The Wall Street Journal and the U.S. vehemently deny Russia’s claims that Gershkovich was spying on behalf of the U.S. government and called for his release, although he isn’t expected to be freed. He is the first U.S. journalist since 1986 to be charged with espionage in Russia.