Russia Detains Wall Street Journal Reporter on Suspicion of Spying

London (Reuters) —
Lefortovo Prison. (Wikipedia)

Russia’s FSB security service said on Thursday it had detained a reporter for The Wall Street Journal on suspicion of spying for Washington, the most serious public move against a foreign journalist since Russia invaded Ukraine.

The FSB said in a statement that it had opened a criminal case for suspected espionage against U.S. national Evan Gershkovich, accusing him of gathering information classified as a state secret about a military factory.

It did not name the factory or say where it was, but said it had detained him in the Urals city of Yekaterinburg as he was trying to procure secret information. It provided no evidence.

“It has been established that E. Gershkovich, acting on an assignment from the American side, was gathering information classified as a state secret about the activity of one of the enterprises of Russia’s military-industrial complex,” the FSB said in its statement.

The White House said the State Department was in direct contact with the Russian government over his detention and urged U.S. citizens living or travelling in Russia to depart immediately.

“We condemn the detention of Mr. Gershkovich in the strongest terms,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said. “We also condemn the Russian government’s continued targeting and repression of journalists and freedom of the press.”

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said on Thursday it was too early to talk of a possible prisoner swap involving detained U.S. reporter Evan Gershkovich who has been held on suspicion of spying, the state RIA news agency reported.The Interfax news agency cited Ryabkov as saying that such exchanges had previously taken place for those already convicted, and that it was necessary to wait to see how the story with Gershkovich developed.

Russia has tightened censorship laws since it sent tens of thousands of troops into Ukraine on Feb. 24 last year in what it called a “special military operation.”

A U.S. diplomatic source said the embassy had not been informed about the incident and was seeking information from the Russian authorities about the case.

Other foreign journalists covering Russia expressed support for Gershkovich online, saying he was a professional journalist, not a spy.

Russia’s Kommersant newspaper reported that Gershkovich would be transported to Moscow and held in the capital’s Lefortovo Prison, an FSB pre-trial detention facility.

Gershkovich, who has covered Russia since 2017, previously worked at The Moscow Times newspaper and at France’s Agence-France Presse news agency. In recent months, he had primarily covered Russian politics and the conflict in Ukraine.

His mobile phone could not be reached on Thursday and, according to the Telegram messenger service, he was last online on Wednesday at 1:28 p.m. Moscow time.

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