Russian lawyers representing Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gerskovich on Monday appealed his arrest on espionage charges and efforts to win his release stretched “all the way up to the Oval Office.”
No hearing date was set for the appeal, which came four days after Gerskovich was taken into custody at a restaurant in the Ural Mountains city of Yekaterinburg. The Journal and U.S. government have denied that Gerskovich is a spy and have demanded his release.
National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said Monday the Biden administration is doing all it can on behalf of Gerkovich. Secretary of State Antony Blinken had a rare conversation with Foreign Minister Russian Sergey Lavrov over the weekend, and Kirby said conversations with the Russians will continue as appropriate.
“”It’s going to take a lot of hard work,” Kirby said. “That doesn’t mean we’re going to shy away from it, we’ll do that work. And so it’s got attention all the way up to the Oval Office, in terms of how we can get him home.”
Russia’s Federal Security Service alleged that the American journalist “was acting on the U.S. orders to collect information about the activities of one of the enterprises of the Russian military industrial complex,” considered a state secret.
“We know what’s going on in the world because of the fearless reporting of journalists like Evan,” the Journal said in a weekend statement. “Evan’s case is a vicious affront to a free press, and should spur outrage in all free people and governments throughout the world.”
– Francesca Chambers
WALL STREET JOURNAL CLASHES WITH RUSSIANS:WSJ ‘demands’ release of Evan Gershkovich after arrest by Russia for espionage
►Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy will visit Warsaw on Wednesday for talks with Polish President Andrzej Duda, Polish authorities said.
►Russian athletes will be allowed to compete at next month’s world taekwondo championships. The decision by World Taekwondo’s ruling council could cause Ukraine to boycott the event.
The Russian flag flew over the Bakhmut city administration building Monday after a Russian mercenary leader claimed to have “technically” captured the eastern Ukraine city that has been a primary focus of the war for several weeks. But the head of the Ukraine presidential office, Andriy Yermak, dismissed the claim on social media: “Don’t pay attention on ‘victory’ fake inventors. Not even close to the reality.”
Yevgeny Prigozhin, the founder of the Wagner private Russian military company, said on a social media that the flag “is for Vladlen Tatarsky.” The Russian military reporter was killed in a blast Sunday in St. Petersburg that Russian officials dubbed terrorism.
Prigozhin said commanders of Russian units had seized the entire central district of Bakhmut and were raising flags throughout. He acknowledged that Ukraine remained in some western areas of Bakhmut.
TURKEY ENDORSES FINLAND FOR NATO:US condemns Russia detention of Wall Street Journal reporter; Finland to join NATO: Updates
Finland will become the 31st member of the world’s largest military alliance on Tuesday, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg announced Monday.
“I congratulated (Finland) President Niinisto on the completion of the historic ratification of Finland’s accession,” Stoltenberg said on social media. “I look forward to raising Finland’s flag at NATO headquarters in the coming days. Together we are stronger and safer.”
Stoltenberg said Turkey, the last country to have ratified Finland’s membership, will hand over official documents to U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday. Stoltenberg said he expected Sweden would also win approval in coming weeks. Both nations sought expedited membership after Russia invaded Ukraine more than a year ago.
Finnish President Sauli Niinistö, Defense Minister Antti Kaikkonen and Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto will attend the ceremony. Haavisto said in a statemen that his country wants to promote stability and security throughout the Euro-Atlantic region.
“It is a historic moment for us,” he said. “For Finland, the most important objective at the meeting will be to emphasize NATO’s support to Ukraine as Russia continues its illegal aggression.”
Russian antiterrorism officials on Monday blamed Ukraine and supporters of jailed Putin rival Alexei Navalny for the explosion at a St. Petersburg cafe that killed a prominent pro-Kremlin war blogger.
Russia’s National Antiterrorism Committee issued a statement saying the blast Sunday that killed Vladlen Tatarsky, 40, and wounded about 30 others was planned by Ukrainian special services and agents collaborating with Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation.
Investigators have said they believe the bomb was hidden in a bust of the blogger presented to him just before the explosion. Darya Trepova, 26, was arrested after video emerged showing her presenting Tatarsky with the bust. Trepova reportedly told investigators she was asked to deliver the bust but didn’t know about the explosives.
Trepova has previously been detained by police for taking part in antiwar rallies and is an “active supporter” of Navalny, the committee said.
Anti-Corruption Foundation head Ivan Zhdanov dismissed the claims, saying it’s “convenient” to blame Ukraine and Navalny’s group.
“Everything that’s happening suggests that in reality, (Russian) agents themselves eliminated this propagandist,” Zhdanov said in a statement. “They’ve been doing this since 2014 – poisoning and killing each other left and right.”
RUSSIAN BLOGGER KILLED:Russian blogger dies in cafe blast; US urges Moscow to free 2 Americans: Ukraine updates
Contributing: The Associated Press