Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Sunday urged his Russian counterpart to immediately release two Americans, including a Wall Street Journal reporter detained last week on espionage charges.
Blinken expressed “grave concern” to Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov over the Kremlin’s detention of journalist Evan Gershkovich, according to a State Department statement. Blinken also made the request for Paul Whelan, a Michigan corporate security executive imprisoned in Russia since December 2018.
The U.S. government, the Americans’ families and their employers have described the charges as baseless.
Lavrov on Sunday dismissed Blinken’s requests, saying they were a matter for the Russian courts to decide. Lavrov also chastised Washington officials and Western mass media, accusing them of attempting to “stir up hysteria with an obvious aim of giving a political overtone” to the Gershkovich case.
“Lavrov stressed that Gershkovich had been detained red-handed when he was receiving secret data and was collecting data constituting a state secret acting under the guise of a journalist’s status,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.
Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) detained Gershkovich, 31, in the eastern city of Yekaterinburg on Thursday. A Russian court ordered him held until May 29 pending investigation. If convicted he could face 20 years in a Russian prison.
►The Wagner Group, Russia’s most high-profile mercenary company, is equal in size to Hungary or Slovakia’s militaries, Serhii Cherevatyi, spokesperson for Ukraine’s Eastern Military Command, said Sunday. Hungary’s military includes an estimated 40,000 troops.
►Russian forces launched five missiles, 22 airstrikes and more than 42 shelling attacks Sunday, the Ukrainian military reported.
The last time Wall Street Journal staff heard from Evan Gershkovich was Wednesday, just before 4 p.m., when he had arrived at a steakhouse in the Russian city of Yekaterinburg, the media outlet says. It was the Russia correspondent’s second trip to the Ural mountains in a month.
Shortly before lunch, a colleague wrote him a text: “Hey buddy, good luck today.”
“Thanks brotha,” Gershkovich replied. A Russian social media post a short time later reported that security agents had taken into custody a diner from a Yekaterinburg steakhouse with his hood up.
A prominent military blogger was killed in an explosion at a St. Petersburg cafe, Russian authorities said Sunday. The Interior Ministry said war correspondent Vladlen Tatarsky was killed and city police and emergency services rescued patrons from the blast.
A video posted to Telegram showed an explosion on the first floor of a large building in St. Petersburg. According to Fontanka, the cafe belongs to Yevgeny Prigozhin, founder of the Russian mercenary company Wagner.
The reports made no don’t mention of any claim of responsibility, and no details of the “explosive device” brought in by a patron at Street Food Bar Number 1 were revealed. The building’s facade was reportedly damaged. Russia media said Tatarsky was meeting with members of the public and that a woman presented him with a box containing a statuette that apparently exploded.
Various fires and explosions have occurred in Russia since the fighting in Ukraine began Feb. 24, 2022. Ukraine authorities have sometimes hinted at involvement but generally do not claim any responsibility.
Contributing: The Associated Press