By Katabella Roberts
Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) has detained a Wall Street Journal reporter, accusing him of espionage on behalf of the United States.
The FSB, the top domestic security and counterintelligence agency that succeeded the Soviet-era KGB, said on March 29 that it had detained Evan Gershkovich, a Moscow-based correspondent, in the city of Yekaterinburg in the Ural Mountains, roughly 900 miles east of Moscow.
Gershkovich, 31, is accredited to work as a journalist in Russia by the country’s foreign ministry, the FSB said.
The security service said in a statement translated by state-run TASS that it had “thwarted the illegal activities of Evan Gershkovich, a US citizen born in 1991, a correspondent of the Moscow bureau of the American newspaper The Wall Street Journal, who is suspected of spying in the interests of the American government.”
“It was established that Evan Gershkovich, acting at the request of the American side, collected information constituting a state secret about the activities of one of the enterprises of the Russian military-industrial complex,” the statement continued. “The foreigner was detained in Yekaterinburg while attempting to obtain classified information,” the FSB said.
Officials did not say exactly when Gershkovich was arrested. He faces up to 20 years behind bars if convicted of espionage.
Reporter Covers Russia, Ukraine
According to The Wall Street Journal’s official website, Gershkovich is a reporter covering Russia, Ukraine, and the former Soviet Union. He was previously a reporter for Agence France-Presse and the Moscow Times and a news assistant at the New York Times.
His most recent article was published on March 28 and co-bylined by fellow Wall Street Journal Georgi Kantchev. It was titled, “Russia’s Economy Is Starting to Come Undone” and detailed how Russia’s economy is reportedly entering a long-term regression.
Local media reports that Gershkovich was also covering the Wagner mercenary group.
Activist Yaroslav Shirshikov said in a post on Telegram on Thursday that he received an overnight phone call from a WSJ employee who had been unable to get in touch with Gershkovich.
“Gershkovich was online yesterday at about 15:00 for the last time. He arranged to do an interview with me,” Shirshikov was quoted by The Moscow Times as saying.
He added that Gershkovich may have been detained on Wednesday when security officers reportedly entered a local restaurant and took an unknown man with a sweater over his head into a minibus, according to the Moscow Times.
Al Jazeera reports that Gershkovich speaks Russian. According to the publication, the journalists’ parents live in the United States but are originally from the Soviet Union.
Tensions Over Nuclear Treaty
Gershkovich is the first reporter for a U.S. news outlet to be arrested on espionage charges in Russia since the cold war.
“The Wall Street Journal is deeply concerned for the safety of Mr. Gershkovich,” the Journal said in a statement.
Gershkovich’s arrest comes amid heightened tensions between Moscow and Washington over President Vladimir Putin’s ongoing invasion of neighboring Ukraine.
On Wednesday, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told Russian news agencies that Moscow will no longer give the Biden administration advance notice about its missile tests under the New START treaty, after suspending its participation in the treaty last month.
“There will be no notifications at all,” Ryabkov said in remarks reported by Russian news agencies. “All notifications, all kinds of notifications, all activities within the framework of the treaty will be suspended and will not be conducted regardless of what position the U.S. may take,” he said.
In response, State Department spokesman Vedant Patel told reporters that the United States will no longer continue providing biannual nuclear weapons data to Russia.
“Because of Russia’s noncompliance with these obligations under the treaty, the United States will not provide its biannual data exchange to Russia either, in order to encourage Russia to return to compliance with the treaty,” Patel said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.