(Moscow) Moscow denounced on Sunday the “media hype” in the West caused by the arrest Thursday of an American journalist in Russia, reaffirming its charges of espionage against him and vowing that he would be tried in court, while Washington again demanded his release.
Three days after the detention of Evan Gershkovich, a journalist for the Wall Street Journal, the heads of Russian and American diplomacy, Sergei Lavrov and Antony Blinken, exchanged about him “at the initiative” of Washington, according to Moscow .
“It is unacceptable that Washington officials and Western media are creating a fuss with the clear intention of giving this matter a political dimension,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
Mr. Gershkovich’s arrest comes amid increased repression in Russia against the press since the offensive against Ukraine, which has greatly strained relations between Moscow and Washington.
His case is unprecedented in the country’s recent history and has caused a stir in the West.
In that rare call on Sunday, Mr. Lavrov repeated to his American counterpart, Antony Blinken, the accusations of espionage made since Thursday by the Russian authorities.
Ignoring criticism, he recalled the procedure: “In light of the established facts […], his further fate will be determined by a court”, without giving further details.
Mr. Blinken, for his part, demanded the “immediate” release of the American journalist, denouncing “unacceptable detention”, according to a spokesperson.
On Friday, US President Joe Biden had asked Moscow to “let go” Mr. Gershkovich.
Evan Gershkovich, a 31-year-old Russian-speaking reporter known for his thoroughness, denied the charges against him on Thursday during a hearing in a Moscow court, according to the Russian news agency Tass.
According to Tass, the case has been classified as “secret”, which restricts the publication of information about it.
The only detail available at this stage: the Russian FSB security services have announced that they have “thwarted an illegal activity” by arresting Evan Gershkovich in Yekaterinburg (Urals), on an unspecified date.
The Russian security services say they suspect him of “espionage for the benefit of the United States”, accusing him in particular of having collected information “on a company of the Russian military-industrial complex”.
According to Article 276 of the Russian Criminal Code, the journalist theoretically faces up to 20 years in prison.
Since Thursday, Western political leaders and NGOs defending human rights and the press have strongly denounced the arrest of the American journalist by the Russian authorities, “a purge” symbolizing “the systematic disregard” of the Kremlin “for the freedom of media” in their eyes.
On its website, the Wall Street Journal called for the release of its reporter and “strongly denied” the espionage charges.