Russia Reporter Arrested

A car passes the building of the Federal Security Service (FSB, Soviet KGB successor) in Lubyanskaya Square in Moscow in 2017. Russia’s top security agency says a reporter for the Wall Street Journal has been arrested on espionage charges. AP file photo

Russia’s security service arrested an American reporter for The Wall Street Journal on espionage charges, the first time a U.S. correspondent has been detained on spying accusations since the Cold War. The newspaper denied the allegations.

Wall Street Journal reporter and Bowdoin College graduate Evan Gershkovich was detained by Russian authorities. Wall Street Journal

Evan Gershkovich, a 2014 Bowdoin College graduate, was detained in the Ural Mountains city of Yekaterinburg while allegedly trying to obtain classified information, the Federal Security Service (FSB) said Thursday.

The service, which is the top domestic security agency and main successor to the Soviet-era KGB, alleged that Gershkovich “was acting on the U.S. orders to collect information about the activities of one of the enterprises of the Russian military-industrial complex that constitutes a state secret.”

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters Wednesday: “It is not about a suspicion, is it about the fact that he was caught red-handed.”

“The Wall Street Journal vehemently denies the allegations from the FSB and seeks the immediate release of our trusted and dedicated reporter, Evan Gershkovich,” the newspaper said. “We stand in solidarity with Evan and his family.”

While at Bowdoin, Gershkovich majored in philosophy and wrote occasionally for The Bowdoin Orient, according to a 2020 article about his work at The Moscow Times posted on the school’s website. Gershkovich, the son of Soviet émigrés, grew up speaking Russian at home and was hired by the independent English-language news website in 2017. He started working at the Wall Street Journal in 2022, according to his LinkedIn profile.


“When you start reporting in Russia, you often hear that it will be very hard to get people to talk. And while that may be true of Russian officialdom – though not all of it – I have found that if you go looking for the right people, many of them want to tell their stories,” he said in the Bowdoin College article. “Of course, some will want their comments to be from unnamed sources, which means, as a reporter, you have to make sure you speak to them over encrypted channels and protect their identities. But they’re out there. You just have to go looking for them.”

Evan Gershkovich being interviewed at a Moscow radio station. Courtesy of Bowdoin College

Bowdoin President Clayton Rose said Gershkovich was “known to many” on campus, especially among the faculty, and mentored students majoring in Russian.

“We are deeply concerned about Evan’s safety, and our thoughts are with him and his family,” Rose said in a statement. “We very much hope for a speedy resolution to this situation and that he and his family are reunited soon.”

Rose added, “A free press is essential to a free society and is embedded in the core values of our college. Evan, along with so many other Bowdoin graduates, has dedicated himself to advancing this principle and making it real.”

Scott Sehon, one of Gershkovich’s philosophy professors at Bowdoin, said he was “shocked and horrified” to hear of his arrest.

“He was an excellent student,” Sehon said. “He was very intrigued and interested in philosophy and did well.”


Sehon said the last time he interacted with Gershkovich was over Facebook in 2015 when the New York Mets lost the World Series. Gershkovich attended Princeton High School in New Jersey and is a Mets fan; the two commiserated over the loss.

Sehon was not surprised Gershkovich launched a successful career in journalism, noting he is an exceptional writer.

“He certainly seemed well-motivated, and it was great to see the things he was doing,” Sehon said. “It’s a tough world in journalism. … I was proud he was doing so well and gotten such intriguing positions and living in Moscow.”

Linda Kinstler, author and editor of the online magazine The Dial, attended Bowdoin with Gershkovich. She edited his music and art stories at The Bowdoin Orient and also edited a story he wrote for the online magazine The Ballot about the Russian constitutional referendum in 2020.

“He’s a dogged reporter,” Kinstler said. “He didn’t shy away from taking on hard stories.”

She said he was a thoughtful student at Bowdoin.


“He was like many of us, figuring out what it would mean to be a reporter and how to do so responsibly and ethically,” she said.

Like Gershkovich’s family and friends, Kinstler is worried about how long Gershkovich could be in custody.

“I hope that he is given legal counsel,” she said. “I hope that everyone who can work on getting him home is doing so.”

“He’s incredibly dedicated to his work,” Kinstler added. “He is an important and responsible reporter and someone whose voice we really need.”

APTOPIX Russia Reporter Arrested

Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich is escorted by officers from the Lefortovsky court to a bus, in Moscow, Russia, Thursday. Russia’s top security agency says Gershkovich, a Wall Street Journal reporter, has been arrested on espionage charges. The Federal Security Service said Thursday that Gershkovich was detained in the Ural Mountains city of Yekaterinburg while allegedly trying to obtain classified information. Alexander Zemlianichenko /Associated Press

Gershkovich’s arrest comes at a moment of bitter tensions between the West and Moscow over its war in Ukraine and as the Kremlin intensifies a crackdown on opposition activists, independent journalists and civil society groups. The sweeping campaign of repression is unprecedented since the Soviet era.

Earlier this week, a Russian court convicted a father over social media posts critical of the war and sentenced him to two years in prison while his 13-year-old daughter was sent to an orphanage.


Gershkovich is the first American reporter to be arrested on espionage charges in Russia since September 1986, when Nicholas Daniloff, a Moscow correspondent for U.S. News and World Report, was arrested by the KGB. Daniloff was released without charge 20 days later in a swap for an employee of the Soviet Union’s United Nations mission who was arrested by the FBI, also on spying charges.

At a hearing Thursday, a Moscow court quickly ruled to keep Gershkovich behind bars pending the investigation, according to the official Telegram channel of the capital’s courts.

While previous American detainees have been freed in prisoner swaps, a top Russian official said it was way too early to talk about any such deal.

There was no immediate public comment from Washington, although a U.S. official indicated the U.S. government was aware of the situation and awaiting more information from Russia.

Gershkovich, who covers Russia, Ukraine and other former Soviet nations as a correspondent in The Wall Street Journal’s Moscow bureau, could face up to 20 years in prison if convicted of espionage. Prominent lawyers noted that past investigations into espionage cases took a year to 18 months, during which time he may be held with little contact with the outside world.

The FSB noted that Gershkovich had accreditation from the Russian Foreign Ministry to work as a journalist, but ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said Gershkovich was using his journalistic credentials as a cover for “activities that have nothing to do with journalism.”


Daniil Berman, the lawyer of arrested Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, speaks to journalists near the Lefortovsky court in Moscow on Thursday. Alexander Zemlianichenko /Associated Press

Gershkovich speaks fluent Russian and had previously worked for Agence France-Presse and The New York Times. His last report from Moscow, published this week, focused on the Russian economy’s slowdown amid Western sanctions imposed when Russian troops invaded Ukraine last year.

Ivan Pavlov, a prominent Russian defense attorney who has worked on many espionage and treason cases, said Gershkovich is the first criminal case on espionage charges against a foreign journalist in post-Soviet Russia.

“That unwritten rule not to touch accredited foreign journalists has stopped working,” said Pavlov, a member of the First Department legal aid group.

Pavlov said the case against Gershkovich was built in order for Russia to have “trump cards” for a future prisoner exchange and will likely be resolved “not by the means of the law but by political, diplomatic means.”

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov ruled out any quick swap.

“I wouldn’t even consider this issue now because people who were previously swapped had already served their sentences,” Ryabkov said, according to Russian news agencies.


Ryabkov added that the U.S. citizens swapped in the past were behind bars on “quite serious charges,” while the Russians in the American custody had found themselves in “the millstones of the American system of persecution.”

Gershkovich’s arrest follows a swap in December, in which WNBA star Brittney Griner was freed after 10 months behind bars in exchange for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.

Another American, Paul Whelan, a Michigan corporate security executive, has been imprisoned in Russia since December 2018 on espionage charges that his family and the U.S. government have said are baseless.

Jeanne Cavelier, of press freedom group Reporters Without Borders, said Gershkovich’s arrest “looks like a retaliation measure of Russia against the United States.”

“We are very alarmed because it is probably a way to intimidate all Western journalists that are trying to investigate aspects of the war on the ground in Russia,” said Cavelier, head of Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk at the Paris-based group. “The Western powers should immediately ask for clarifications on the charges, because as far as we know, he was just doing his job as a journalist.”

Russian journalist Dmitry Kolezev said on the messaging app Telegram that he spoke to Gershkovich before his trip to Yekaterinburg.


“He was preparing for the usual, albeit rather dangerous in current conditions, journalist work,” Kolezev wrote. He said Gershkovich asked him for the contacts of local journalists and officials in the area as he prepared to arrange interviews.

Another prominent lawyer with the First Department group, Yevgeny Smirnov, said that those arrested on espionage and treason charges are usually held at the FSB’s Lefortovo prison in Moscow, known for its stringent conditions. It was Moscow’s Lefortovo District Court that ruled behind closed doors to keep Gershkovich in custody.

Smirnov said espionage suspects are usually held in a total isolation, without phone calls, visitors or even access to newspapers. At most, they can receive letters, often delayed by weeks. Smirnov called these conditions “tools of suppression.”

Smirnov and Pavlov both said that the investigation could last for 12-18 months, and the trial would be held behind closed doors.

According to Pavlov, there have been no acquittals in treason and espionage cases in Russia since 1999.

Most recently, Smirnov and Pavlov defended Ivan Safronov, a former Russian journalist turned official with the federal space corporation Roscosmos, who was convicted of treason.

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