(Washington) Joe Biden asked Moscow on Friday to “let go” an American journalist arrested in Russia, whose employer, the Wall Street Journal, is calling for the expulsion of the Russian ambassador and journalists stationed in the UNITED STATES.
“Let him go,” the US president told the Russian government, in the face of journalists who were asking the White House for his first public reaction to the case.
Evan Gershkovich, a 31-year-old Russian-speaking reporter known for his thoroughness, was arrested in Yekaterinburg, in the Urals, on suspicion of “espionage”.
“Expelling the Russian ambassador from the United States, as well as the Russian journalists working there, would be the least of things,” said the American daily, in an editorial published overnight from Thursday to Friday.
“The timing of the arrest looks like a calculated provocation to embarrass the United States and intimidate the foreign press still working in Russia,” he added.
The Kremlin on Thursday warned Washington against any form of reprisals targeting Russian media working in the United States after the arrest of the American journalist caught, according to Moscow, “in the act” of spying.
“Regarding the request for the expulsion of all Russian journalists, the newspaper [the WSJ] can say that, but that should not happen. There’s just no reason for that,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Friday. He added that the American journalist “was caught in the act [of espionage]” and that “the situation is clear”.
Evan Gershkovich denied the charges against him during a hearing in a Moscow court, according to Russian state news agency Tass. The American journalist has nevertheless been placed in pre-trial detention until May 29, a measure which may be extended pending a possible trial.
According to Tass, the case has been classified as “secret”, which restricts the publication of information about it.
The only details available at this stage: the FSB announced that it had “thwarted illegal activity” by arresting Evan Gershkovich in Yekaterinburg, on an unspecified date.
His arrest comes in a context of increased repression in Russia against the press since the offensive against Ukraine, which has greatly strained relations between Moscow and Washington.
It also follows a December exchange between American basketball star Brittney Griner, who was in Russian custody, and Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, a prisoner in the United States.
The White House slammed an “unacceptable” arrest and spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre called the espionage charge “ridiculous”, while US Foreign Minister Antony Blinken said ” extremely concerned”.
The European Union, through its head of diplomacy Josep Borrell, “condemns” the detention of Evan Gershkovich by Russia, in a tweet that denounces Moscow’s “systematic disregard” for freedom of the press.