US slams Russia for reporter arrest and warns Americans to leave the country

Washington DC - The United States on Thursday strongly condemned Moscow's decision to detain a Wall Street Journal reporter, saying Russia is not a safe country for Americans and those there should leave immediately.

Evan Gershkovich, a reported for The Wall Street Journal, has been detained in Russia, prompting new warnings from the US.
Evan Gershkovich, a reported for The Wall Street Journal, has been detained in Russia, prompting new warnings from the US.  © REUTERS

The travel advice came after a Moscow court arrested Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich on Thursday, saying he was spying for the US. Russian officials said they would keep the reporter in detention until at least May 29th.

"I want to strongly reiterate that Americans should heed the US government’s warning to not travel to Russia, said White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre.

"US citizens residing or traveling in Russia should depart immediately, as the State Department continues to advise," she added.

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In a statement, the White House said Russia's targeting of American citizens is "unacceptable" and it condemns Gershkovich's detention in "the strongest terms."

The journalist was detained in Yekaterinburg in the Ural mountains some 900 miles east of Moscow.

Gershkovich was trying to write a report about the population's attitude toward the Wagner private army's recruitment attempts, according to media reports. The Wagner army is deployed in Russia's war against Ukraine, which Moscow started 13 months ago.

The State Department is in direct contact with the Russian government and is actively seeking to provide Gershkovich with consular access, Jean-Pierre said.

The Wall Street Journal vehemently denied the allegations, called for his release, and said it was concerned about his welfare.

"We stand in solidarity with Evan and his family," the newspaper said. The human rights organization Reporters Without Borders called the journalist's arrest "worrying."

"Journalists must not be targeted," the organization demanded.

The Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich accused of spying by Russia

The Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich was escorted to a car outside a court building in Moscow, Russia on Thursday.
The Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich was escorted to a car outside a court building in Moscow, Russia on Thursday.  © REUTERS

Gershkovich, born in 1991, faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted. The Russian legal system is considered highly politicized and charges nearly always lead to convictions.

The Russian domestic intelligence service FSB said it detained the US reporter for "espionage in the interests of the American government."

The spy agency said Gershkovich had collected information on the military-industrial complex in Russia on behalf of the US side.

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"As far as we know, he was caught red-handed," Russian government spokesman Dmitry Peskov told state radio on Thursday. The Sverdlovsk region around Yekaterinburg is considered one of the strongholds of Russia's arms industry.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova used the case as an opportunity to accuse Western correspondents in general of spying on Russia under the guise of journalism. Zakharova said what Gershkovich dealt with in Yekaterinburg had nothing to do with journalism.

"Unfortunately, this is not the first case where the status of a foreign correspondent, journalist visa and accreditation of foreigners in our country are used to disguise an activity that is not journalism," she said on Telegram.

Since Russia invaded Ukraine 13 months ago, Moscow has once again significantly restricted freedom of expression and freedom of the press in the country. There is also the threat of legal proceedings for discrimination or damage to the reputation of the Russian army.

Cover photo: Collage: REUTERS

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