(Moscow) Russia announced on Thursday the arrest for “ espionage ” of an American journalist from the Wall Street Journal, Evan Gershkovich, an unprecedented case in the recent history of the country in a context of repression since the offensive against Ukraine.
“ The FSB foiled the illegal activity of the accredited correspondent […] of the Moscow office of the American newspaper Wall Street Journal, the United States citizen Evan Gershkovich ”, the Russian Federal Security Service said in a statement quoted by the agencies. Russians.
He is “ suspected of spying for the benefit of the United States ” and of collecting information “ on a Russian military-industrial complex company ”. A crime punishable by 10 to 20 years in prison, according to Article 276 of the Russian Criminal Code.
Before joining the American daily in 2022, Mr. Gershkovich was a correspondent for AFP in Moscow, and before that, for the English-language newspaper Moscow Times. Perfectly Russian-speaking, the 31-year-old journalist is of Russian origin and his parents are settled in the United States.
“Breaking news: the main Russian security agency has declared to detain journalist Evan Gershkovitch, an American citizen, for espionage”, wrote the New York newspaper on its Twitter account earlier this morning.
Independent Russian analyst Tatiana Stanovaya, who heads the R. Politik Analysis Center, noted that Russia has recently tightened its espionage laws since its assault on Ukraine.
“ The problem is that the new Russian legislation […] allows to put in prison for 20 years anyone interested in military affairs, special military operation (in Ukraine), private military groups (like Wagner) , to the state of the army,” she wrote on Facebook.
But the analyst also notes that the FSB was able to take the journalist “hostage” with a view to a possible exchange of prisoners.
Russian-American exchanges have taken place a few times in recent years.
Several American nationals are still detained in Russia, one of whom, Paul Whelan, is serving a 16-year prison sentence for “espionage” in a case that the person concerned and Washington consider fabricated.
He was arrested in 2018 and negotiations have been ongoing for several years to have him released.
The 53-year-old ex-soldier suffers, according to his family, from health problems in his prison, located in the Russian region of Mordovia.
The latest exchange between Moscow and Washington took place in December when Russia handed over American basketball player Brittney Griner, detained on drug charges, in exchange for the release of arms dealer Victor Bout who is incarcerated in the United States.
Another American currently being held in Russia, Marc Fogel, a former diplomat who worked as a teacher at an American school in Moscow. He was sentenced in June 2022 to fourteen years in prison for “large-scale” cannabis trafficking.
The Russian authorities claimed to have found marijuana and hashish oil in his luggage during a customs check upon his arrival at Sheremetyevo airport in Moscow.
If the Russian press and journalists critical of the Kremlin are often the target of criminal proceedings in Russia, foreign journalists have been spared, Moscow having preferred to expel correspondents and toughen accreditation rules.
Since the launch of the Russian offensive against Ukraine, the Russian authorities have however accelerated the repression of the opposition and independent media, generally by using provisions of the Criminal Code punishing the act of “ discrediting the army ”.
At the same time, for foreign journalists, the conditions for issuing accreditations, on which visas depend, have been tightened.
Foreign reporters are also sometimes followed by the security services during their reporting, especially outside Moscow.
In this context, many Western media have greatly reduced their presence in Russia since the entry of Russian forces into Ukraine in February 2022.