The Biden administration strongly condemned Russia’s detention of a Wall Street Journal reporter on espionage charges Thursday and said it was working to provide American Evan Gershkovich with consular access.
“The targeting of American citizens by the Russian government is unacceptable,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a statement. “We also condemn the Russian government’s continued targeting and repression of journalists and freedom of the press.”
The Journal denied the spy allegations, issuing a statement requesting immediate release of “our trusted and dedicated” Moscow-based reporter.
“We stand in solidarity with Evan and his family,” the statement said.
Russian state media said a Moscow court ordered Gershkovich, who faces up to 20 years in prison on espionage charges, held until May 29 pending investigation. Espionage trials are generally conducted in secret and – as with all Russian trials – acquittals are almost impossible to obtain.
Gershkovich, who reports on Russia as part of the Journal’s Moscow bureau, is accredited to work as a journalist in Russia by the country’s foreign ministry, the agency said. He the first reporter for an American news outlet to be arrested on espionage charges in Russia in decades. It comes as the Ukraine war has driven relations between Washington and Moscow to a low not seen since the Cold War.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged release of Gershkovich and condemned “the Kremlin’s continued attempts to intimidate, repress, and punish journalists and civil society voices.”
But the Russian security service said in a statement that it had “thwarted the illegal activities” of Gershkovich.
“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 said. “While trying to obtain secret information, the foreigner was detained.”
WHO IS EVAN GERSHKOVICH?:What we know about WSJ reporter arrested by Russia for espionage
►Ukraine Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said on Estonian TV that the much-discussed spring counteroffensive will involve several areas, that more occupied land will be wrested from Russia and that the world will see “ positive changes for Ukraine.”
►The Ukraine military accused Russia’s security officers in the Crimean town of Krasnoperekopsk of undressing, interrogating and beating civilians. Russia seized Crimea in 2014; Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky has vowed to take it back.
►The Biden administration hasn’t seen any evidence of “egregious misconduct” in the management of the billions of dollars in security assistance sent to Ukraine, White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said.
Gershovich has worked as a reporter in Russia since 2017. His most recent article was published Tuesday, focusing on the Russian economic slowdown amid Western sanctions. He previously worked at Agence France-Presse and the Moscow Times. Earlier, he was a news assistant in New York for the New York Times, according to a biography on the Journal website. He is a graduate of Bowdoin College in Maine, the Journal said.
He was taken into custody in Yekaterinburg, Russia’s fourth-largest city with 1.5 million people about 1,000 miles east of Moscow. The city made global news last year as home to the women’s basketball team that Brittney Griner played for when the WNBA star was arrested in Russia on drug charges.
Griner was ultimately released in a deal that freed notorious Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout from a U.S. prison. Deputy Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov was asked about the possibility of a prisoner exchange for Gershkovich.
“I would not even raise the question right now” because he has not been convicted, Ryabkov was quoted by state media. “We’ll see how this story develops further.”
Russian media reporting suggests that the the Kremlin is preparing to start a major military recruitment campaign with the aim of signing up another 400,000 troops, the British Defense Ministry said in its latest assessment of the war. Russia is presenting the campaign as a drive for volunteer, professional personnel, rather than a new, mandatory mobilization, the ministry said.
“Russian authorities have likely selected a supposedly ‘volunteer model’ to meet their personnel shortfall in order to minimize domestic dissent,” the ministry said. “It is highly unlikely that the campaign will attract 400,000 genuine volunteers.”
Russia also needs more munitions and military equipment supplies than it has available, the ministry said.
Four former bankers with the Swiss affiliate of a Russia’s Gazprombank have been convicted in Zurich of failing to properly check accounts opened in the name of Russian cellist Sergei Roldugin. Roldugin has longtime ties to President Vladimir Putin, and the U.S. Treasury Department describes Roldugin as “part of a system that manages President Putin’s offshore wealth.”
All four defendants denied the charges, which include allegations of violating Swiss anti-money-laundering law.
Documents filed when the accounts were opened listed expected transactions of $12.2 million. The indictment noted how Putin has “enormous assets managed by people close to him.” Gazprombank maintained the accounts despite “abundant” media reports about Roldugin’s relationship to Putin, including that he was godfather to one of Putin’s daughters, the indictment said.
Contributing: The Associated Press