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EDITORIAL | US Journalist Arrest Part of Russia’s Aggression Towards Ukraine 

The world must pressure Russia to release US journalist Evan Gershkovich. It’s unacceptable to charge him with espionage while doing normal reporting work.



US journalist
Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, who was detained in March while on a reporting trip and charged with espionage, stands behind a glass wall of an enclosure for defendants. Meanwhile, US Ambassador to Russia Lynne Tracy appears in a courtroom before a hearing to consider an appeal against Gershkovich's detention in Moscow. April 18, 2023. (© REUTERS/Yulia Morozova)

The Russian government's crackdown on free speech and human rights has intensified since Vladimir Putin began his invasion of Ukraine. Now, with the arrest of a United States citizen who is a bona fide US journalist, that crackdown has been extended to the Western media. 

At the end of March, the Federal Security Service (FSB), an executive body responsible for national security, arrested the Moscow correspondent for the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) on "suspicion of engaging in espionage."

This arbitrary and unjustified arrest of an American journalist who is officially accredited to conduct normal reporting activities in Russia is absolutely unacceptable.

It is no wonder that US President Joe Biden, when interviewed by reporters, said, "Let him go!" Furthermore, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken also expressed "grave concern." In a telephone conversation with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, he demanded the newspaperman's immediate release.

US journalist
US Ambassador to Russia Lynne Tracy speaks to the media outside a court building after a hearing to consider an appeal against the detention of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, charged with espionage, in Moscow on April 18, 2023. (© REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina)

Russia's Claims

FSB officials maintain that the WSJ reporter, Evan Gershkovich, "acting on instructions from the American side…was collecting classified information about the activities of one of the enterprises of the Russian military industrial complex." 

He was taken into custody in the city of Ekaterinburg in central Russia.

The Wall Street Journal vehemently denied the FSB allegations and called for the "immediate release of our trusted and dedicated reporter." Gershkovich is a US citizen, although his parents emigrated from the former Soviet Union. He is also said to speak fluent Russian. 

Immediately after the Putin regime launched its invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Russia adopted a series of revised statutes that, among other things, provide for a "maximum prison sentence of 15 years" for the reporting or dissemination of military-related information considered by the Russian government to be "fake." Already, all domestic media critical of the regime have been shut down or forced to relocate abroad.


According to the Interfax News Agency, Gershkovich could also face up to 20 years in prison if convicted of espionage. 

It is absolute nonsense to be charging a foreign journalist with committing a serious crime on mere suspicion of providing "fake" information.

US journalist
US Ambassador to Russia Lynne Tracy also appears in a courtroom before a hearing to consider an appeal against Gershkovich's detention by in Moscow. April 18, 2023. (© REUTERS/Yulia Morozova)

Reliving the Cold War

This is the first time since the Cold War that a correspondent for a US media organization stationed in Russia has been detained under the guise of being a spy. Already, the US government has also advised Americans not to travel to Russia and urged US citizens now in Russia to leave that country as soon as possible.

The day after Gershkovich's arrest, Putin released a new "Russian Foreign Policy Concept," a de facto handbook for Russian diplomats. Its contents reveal his deep hostility toward the West, which is increasingly supporting Ukraine. 

The 42-page document states that the West aims at "weakening Russia in every possible way." As evidence, it says the West has attempted to gain control of Ukraine. It also adds that it was the US and Europe side that pushed Russia into a corner and forced it to go to war against Ukraine.

Such specious accusations are a transparent attempt to legitimize Russia's aggression. The West should further increase pressure on Russia to secure the early release of the reporter.


(Read the editorial in Japanese.)

Author: Editorial Board, The Sankei Shimbun