A US journalist working for the Wall Street Journal has been detained in Russia on suspicion of espionage, the FSB state security service said on Thursday. Evan Gershkovich, 31, was detained at Yekaterinburg, in the Urals, where he was working on a project for The Wall Street Journal.
The reporter was detained over alleged "illegal activities" and was "suspected of espionage for the US government," the FSB said. Gershkovich is a recognized foreign journalist in Moscow. The Wall Street Journal emphatically disputed the accusations against him while saying that it is "deeply concerned" for his safety. The reporter was allegedly "caught red-handed," according to the Kremlin.
Different Kind of Allegation Altogether
According to the FSB, the reporter had been "acting on US instructions" and "collecting state secrets." The agency claimed to have "halted criminal actions."
In his most recent article this week, Gershkovich discussed how the Kremlin was dealing with "ballooning military expenditures" while preserving social spending in light of Russia's faltering economy.
The FSB confirmed in its statement that Gershkovich had accreditation from the foreign ministry during his employment in Yekaterinburg, 1,800 kilometers (1,100 miles) east of Moscow.
"While trying to obtain secret information, an American was detained in Yekaterinburg," the FSB said without providing any evidence for its accusations.
The Wall Street Journal issued a statement in which it expressed its solidarity for the reporter and his family. "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 FSB is the primary internal security and counterintelligence agency and the leading KGB replacement organization.
According to reports, Gershkovich was detained on Wednesday night at the Bukowski Grill restaurant before being escorted by plain-clothes police to a waiting vehicle while wearing a sweater over his head.
According to Russian media, he traveled to Yekaterinburg to write about the attitude of the people to the conflict Vladimir Putin started in Ukraine and the recruiting of citizens for the Wagner private military firm.
There were concerns for Gershkovich after he didn't get in touch with his editorial office.
A New Conflict
Gershkovich is the first journalist from an American news organization to be detained in Russia on suspicion of espionage since the end of the Cold War. His detention comes amid growing tensions between Russia and the United States over the bloodshed in Ukraine.
Gershkovich was born in the US to Soviet Union-born parents. He has been a journalist working in Moscow for six years.
According to local reports, Gershkovich visited the city a few weeks ago and came back this week. Gershkovich previously worked in Moscow for AFP before joining The Wall Street Journal.
He had also worked as a correspondent for The Moscow Times, an English-language news website, based in the Russian capital.
Russian accusations of spying against accredited Western journalists have been rare. But, when the war began 13 months ago, many authorized correspondents from Western media sources fled the nation out of fear for their safety.
According to political expert Tatiana Stanovaya, the FSB may have "taken hostage" Gershkovich. In the past, Moscow has been accused of detaining foreigners, particularly Americans, to serve as trade exchanges for Russians held in US custody.
Convictions for spying can result in 20-year prison terms.
According to a U.S. diplomatic source, the embassy was unaware of the incident and was requesting information about it from the Russian authorities. Gershkovich received online support from other international journalists covering Russia, who defended him as a skilled journalist rather than a spy.
Andrei Soldatov, author and security sector expert in Russia, who is out of Russia, said on social media: "Evan Gershkovich is a very good and brave journalist, not a spy, for Christ's sake. It (his detention) is a frontal attack on all foreign correspondents who still work in Russia. And it means that the FSB is off the leash."
Gershkovich would be brought to Moscow and detained in the city's Lefortovo prison, an FSB pre-trial holding facility, Russian newspaper Kommersant reported.