Russia arrests US reporter on spy charges
Vladimir Putin accused an American Wall Street Journal writer of espionage on Thursday, escalating Moscow’s diplomatic dispute with Washington over the Ukraine crisis and potentially further isolating Russia.
The publication disputed the charges and that Evan Gershkovich, a “trusted and dedicated reporter,” be released immediately. Washington did not respond immediately.
Gershkovich, a 31-year-old writer who has lived in Russia for six years, is the most high-profile American detained there since basketball star Brittney Griner was released in December after serving a ten-month sentence on drug charges.
The FSB claimed Gershkovich was detained in the Urals industrial city of Yekaterinburg on suspicion of “spying in the interests of the American government” by gathering information on “one of Russia’s military-industrial complex enterprises,” which it did not name.
He was transferred to Moscow, where a judge ordered him remanded in pre-trial custody until May 29 at a secret hearing. According to the official news agency TASS, he pleaded not guilty. The authorities revealed no evidence publicly, and TASS reported that the investigation was deemed “top secret.”
Daniil Berman, the reporter’s lawyer, told reporters outside that he was not allowed into the courtroom or to view the allegations. He expected Gershkovich to be brought to Lefortovo, a 19th-century central Moscow penitentiary known for housing political inmates during the Soviet era.
“The Wall Street Journal vehemently denies the FSB allegations and calls for the immediate release of our trusted and dedicated reporter, Evan Gershkovich; we stand in solidarity with Evan and his family,” the publication wrote.
Dmitry Peskov, a Kremlin spokesperson, claimed Gershkovich had been “caught red-handed.” Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said it was too early to discuss a prospective prisoner exchange with the US, noting that such accords are normally negotiated only after a prisoner is convicted.
The United States State Department’s travel advisory, which was last revised in February of this year, urges US citizens not to go to Russia due to the risk of arbitrary detention and recommends anyone living or travelling there leave immediately.
In addition to escalating Moscow’s diplomatic battle with the US, the case might further isolate Russia by scaring away more of the few foreign journalists who remain in the country.
The arrest was a “frontal attack on all foreign correspondents who continue to work in Russia, and it means that the FSB is untethered,” observed Andrei Soldatov, a Russian journalist based outside the country who specialised in security services.
Since the start of the conflict, Moscow has practically blacklisted all independent Russian news outlets but has continued to accredit some international correspondents. Laws imposing heavy prison penalties for any public criticism of the conflict, which Russia calls a “special military operation,” have severely restricted journalism.
Kyiv Acknowledges Some Russian Gains
Ukraine claimed on Thursday that Russian troops had achieved some advances within the eastern frontline city of Bakhmut, but at a high cost in lives lost, blunting Moscow’s push as Kyiv prepared its own counter-attack.
The little mining city of Bakhmut has been the subject of Europe’s worst infantry combat since WWII, with Russian troops seeking their first win since mid-2022.
Ukraine has been on the defence for over five months, but it claims to be preparing a counteroffensive.
“Enemy forces had a degree of success in their actions aimed at storming the city of Bakhmut,” the Ukrainian armed forces’ General Staff stated in an overnight report. “Our defenders have taken control of the city and have repulsed numerous enemy attacks.”
The study provided no information on Russia’s advances. According to the Institute for the Study of War, Russian forces and Wagner mercenaries have taken land in the city’s south and southwest during the last two days, and Wagner has occupied a metal factory in the city’s north this week.
Russian soldiers have been progressively into Bakhmut via fierce street warfare. Kyiv seemed to be abandoning the city a month ago but has subsequently opted to remain and fight for it, aiming to break the assaulting army.
In a social media post, Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Malyar said that casualties are unavoidable, but “the enemy’s losses are many times greater.”
According to Serhiy Cherevatyi, a Ukrainian military spokeswoman, “Bakhmut remains the epicentre of military activity…it’s still constantly ‘hot’ there.”
As winter gives way to spring, the urgent issue is how long Russia can continue its attack, and when or if Ukraine will respond.
Ukrainian and Western officials say there are indicators that Russia’s effort is losing steam. Over the last four weeks, the average number of daily Russian strikes on the front lines recorded by Ukraine’s military command has decreased by about half.
Russia’s invasion has damaged Ukrainian cities and displaced millions of people. Tens of thousands of Ukrainian citizens and military are thought to have been killed on both sides.
Moscow, which claims it sent soldiers in because its neighbour constituted a security danger, has threatened to keep fighting until it controls all of the lands of the five eastern provinces it claims to have annexed. Kyiv says it would fight until all Russian forces are driven off its territory.