The White House said late Thursday it was “deeply concerned” about reports that Russia’s security service had arrested an American reporter for The Wall Street Journal on espionage charges.
The newspaper denied the allegations lodged against their journalist, Evan Gershkovich, and has demanded his release.
Gershkovich was detained in the city of Yekaterinburg while allegedly trying to obtain classified information, the Federal Security Service (FSB), said Thursday.
The FSB, which is the main successor to the old Soviet Union’s KGB, alleged that Gershkovich “was acting on instructions from the American side to collect information about the activities of one of the enterprises of the Russian military-industrial complex that constitutes a state secret”.
The Wall Street Journal has however vehemently denied the allegations and said Gershkovich is a trusted and dedicated journalist.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre meanwhile condemned the arrest “in the strongest terms” and in a statement urged Americans to heed government warnings not to travel to Russia.
In a separate statement, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he was “deeply concerned” over the detention of the journalist.
“Whenever a U.S. citizen is detained abroad, we immediately seek consular access, and seek to provide all appropriate support,” he said. “In the strongest possible terms, we condemn the Kremlin’s continued attempts to intimidate, repress, and punish journalists and civil society voices.”
The arrest comes amid bitter tensions between the West and Moscow over its war in Ukraine.
Gershkovich is the first American reporter to be arrested on espionage charges in Russia since September 1986, when Nicholas Daniloff, a Moscow correspondent for US News and World Report, was arrested by the KGB. Daniloff was released without charge 20 days later in a swap for an employee of the Soviet Union’s United Nations mission who was arrested by the FBI, also on spying charges.
At a hearing Thursday, a Moscow court quickly ruled that Gershkovich would be kept behind bars pending the investigation.
While previous American detainees have been freed in prisoner swaps, a top Russian official said it was too early to talk about any such deal.