The Biden administration on Thursday condemned Russia’s detention of an American reporter for The Wall Street Journal on espionage grounds, the first time since the Cold War that a U.S. journalist had been detained by the country on espionage charges. detention.
The White House said in a statement that the State Department had contacted the Russian government about Evan Gershkovich’s detention and was communicating with the Wall Street Journal about Gershkovich’s situation.
“The actions of the Russian government against American citizens are unacceptable,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a statement.
In a separate statement, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the United States sought immediate consular engagement with Gershkovich to provide appropriate support.
“We condemn in the strongest terms the Kremlin’s continued attempts to intimidate, silence and punish journalists and civil society voices,” Blinken said.
Russia’s main security agency said on Thursday it detained Gershkovich, who was reporting there, on Wednesday in the city of Yekaterinburg, about 800 miles east of Moscow, and charged him with espionage.
The FSB said in a statement that Gershkovich “acted on instructions from the United States to collect information on the activities of a Russian military-industrial complex, which constitutes a state secret.”
“The WSJ categorically denies the FSB’s allegations and seeks the immediate release of our trusted and dedicated reporter, Evan Gershkovich,” the WSJ said. “Our unwavering support for Evan and his family.”
Gershkovich covers Russia as part of The Wall Street Journal’s Moscow bureau. The Russian Federal Security Service said he was identified by the Russian foreign ministry as a journalist working in Russia.
Russia’s FSB said it had “stopped” Gershkovich’s ongoing “illegal activities” and had filed charges against him in Yekaterinburg.
“An employee of the American publication “The Wall Street Journal” has engaged in operations in Yekaterinburg that have nothing to do with journalistic work,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on Telegram.
Gershkovich, 31, has been working as a journalist in Russia since 2017. Before joining The Wall Street Journal, he worked for Agence France-Presse and The Moscow Times. Earlier, he was a New York-based news assistant for The New York Times. Gershkovich is a graduate of Bowdoin College and has recently written about the impact of Western sanctions on the Russian economy.
Reporting in Russia has become much more difficult since last February, when President Vladimir Putin launched a massive invasion of Ukraine, followed by a crackdown on dissent in the country.
Russia passed a censorship law last March that makes it illegal to publish what authorities consider false information about military operations in Ukraine. In response, many domestic news outlets either ceased operations or left the country, and foreign media outlets sharply restricted reporting inside Russia and withdrew many staff.
Putin tightened restrictions across Russian society last October, issuing a presidential decree granting new powers to local governments in the country’s regions to address security concerns. Putin said at the time the measures were aimed at maintaining public order, boosting industrial production to support military operations and protecting critical infrastructure.