“They took a hostage.” In Russia, for the first time since Soviet times, an American journalist was arrested for “espionage”

An unprecedented arrest

The arrest of The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reporter Evan Gershkovich was the first American journalist to be detained in Russia on espionage charges in 37 years. The last time this happened was in the USSR at the end of the Cold War, on the eve of unfreezing relations between the two countries.

Furthermore, the WSJ notes that if the paper’s journalists were sometimes detained in different countries, they were rarely, if ever, arrested. In the examples cited by the newspaper from Turkey, China and Iran, the most difficult case was the several-day detention of a Cairo WSJ reporter in Iran in 1987. He was accused of being a Zionist spy traveling on a false passport. Iranian authorities later said he had been detained by mistake.

On September 2, 1986, US News & World Report correspondent Nicholas Daniloff was detained in the USSR on espionage charges. He remained in custody for several weeks while the Ronald Reagan administration negotiated for his release. As a result, Daniloff was exchanged for the physicist Gennady Zakharov, arrested in New York in August of the same year, whom the United States accused of espionage.

A lawyer hired by the WSJ tried to find Gerszkowicz in the FSB building in Yekaterinburg, where he was reportedly being held. The lawyer was told that the authorities had no information about Gershkovich. Later, the journalist appeared before a Moscow court, which ordered his arrest before May 29.

Attorney Daniil Berman, who has a journalist protection agreement, was not allowed to attend the court hearing because Bershkovich was provided with a lawyer by appointment, TASS reported. According to the agency’s information received from law enforcement, the case is marked as “top secret”. Gerszkowicz, who has been with the WSJ since January 2022, has pleaded not guilty.

The rules no longer apply

Some experts and American politicians claim that Russia actually took a hostage. House Foreign Affairs Committee Democrat Jared Moskowitz called Gershkowitz’s arrest a “kidnapping” in an interview with CNN:

“It looks like they have been taken hostage,” Tatyana Stanovaya, founder of R.Politik and a senior fellow at the Carnegie Center for International Peace, is quoted by the Financial Times. According to her, Moscow has a list of Russians arrested in the West, whose release she would like to ensure. Stanovaya calls the arrest “a shock” that takes “Russia-United States relations to a new level of confrontation.”

Her colleague at the Carnegie Center, Alexander Gabuev, called the incident “a real precedent” because no American journalists have been arrested in Russia since the Cold War. He added that most likely the problem will now be resolved at a high diplomatic level.

After the start of the war and the passage of a law making it a crime to discredit the army and “falsify” about a “special military operation”, many foreign media outlets removed their journalists from Russia. But then some media outlets sent reporters to Russian offices, the WSJ notes, and the Foreign Office continued to accredit foreign journalists. Gerszkowicz has it too.

MFA spokeswoman Maria Zakharowa said Gerszkowicz’s activities had nothing to do with journalism, and foreign correspondents often used their status as a cover. Raising the issue of replacing Gierszkowicz is premature, said Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov.

According to Presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov, Gershkovich was allegedly caught red-handed, but the rest of the WSJ correspondents who carry out “normal journalistic activities” can still work. WSJ editor-in-chief Emma Tucker wrote in a letter to the editor that she was very worried about Gershkovich and his safety.

Russia has not complied with the unwritten rule “don’t touch accredited journalists”, which is another sign of war and an escalation of confrontation with the West, says Ivan Pavlov, a human rights defender and lawyer from the First Department. “This is a signal that is sent to foreign journalists that now the unwritten rule does not work. Any foreign or Russian journalist who simply performs his duties honestly and professionally can be accused of espionage or treason,” he told The Insider.

The Russian regime will now have the opportunity to bargain as it tries to free the people it needs, Pavlov said. Democrat Adam Schiff believes that in conjunction with statements about nuclear weapons, Moscow is trying to put pressure on the US in this way, pointing out that “they will use any tricks, including actual hostage-taking, to try to make the US and the West stop each other rely on it.”

Moskvits believes that “Putin should not play such a game”:


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