Breaking News
Investing Pro 0
👀 Bezos, Buffett & Berkowitz: What's in Their Portfolios? Unlock Data

US reporter's detention in Russia on spy charges widens rift between nuclear rivals

Published Mar 30, 2023 04:41AM ET Updated Mar 30, 2023 03:47PM ET
Saved. See Saved Items.
This article has already been saved in your Saved Items
© Reuters.

By Andrew Osborn, Felix Light and Patricia Zengerle

LONDON/WASHINGTON (Reuters) -A Moscow court ruled that a U.S. journalist for the Wall Street Journal should be detained for nearly two months on suspicion of spying, the most serious move against a foreign journalist since Russia invaded Ukraine and one quickly condemned by Washington.

Russia's FSB security service said on Thursday it had opened a criminal case against U.S. national Evan Gershkovich on suspicion of espionage. The Kremlin said he had been "caught red-handed" but presented no documentary or video evidence.

U.S. President Joe Biden's administration said it was deeply concerned and that officials had been in touch with Gershkovich's employer and family. Journalist advocacy groups demanded Gershkovich's release.

The case will worsen already dire relations between Moscow and Washington, both nuclear powers. The U.S. is Ukraine's biggest military backer as Kyiv battles a Russian invasion and has imposed sanctions on Moscow to try to persuade it to end its invasion of Ukraine.

It is believed to be the first criminal case for espionage against a foreign journalist in post-Soviet Russia, a crime punishable by up to 20 years imprisonment.

The Biden administration strongly urged Americans to avoid travel to Russia and to leave if they were already there.

Gershkovich, 31, is the highest profile American arrested by Russia since basketball star Brittney Griner, who was caught arriving in Moscow with cannabis oil a week before the Ukraine invasion and freed in a prisoner swap 10 months later.

Analysts said Russia could be motivated by a desire for another swap or view the journalist as leverage in any negotiations involving Washington.

"They might be looking to trade him for somebody ... or to keep him in reserve," said Olga Oliker, an analyst with the International Crisis Group.

Kremlin watchers said Gershkovich's case recalled that of U.S. journalist Nicholas Daniloff, who was detained and accused of spying by the Soviet Union in 1986 before being released and sent home without charge. Daniloff said he had been framed.


Experts said Gershkovich, who joined the Journal's Moscow bureau in January 2022, might have been detained because of his reporting on politics, to send a message to journalists across Russia.

Yaroslav Shirshikov, a political expert in Yekaterinburg, told Reuters he was interviewed by Gershkovich two weeks ago and was due to meet him again on Thursday.

He said Gershkovich had asked about local attitudes towards the Wagner Group mercenary army, which is fighting in Ukraine, and told him he planned to travel to Nizhny Tagil, a city that is home to a big tank factory, to seek residents' views on the Ukraine conflict.

Shirshikov said Gershkovich had not mentioned wanting information about a military factory and was not "an enemy of Russia."

Maria Snegovaya, senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said Gershkovich's detention underscored Russia's growing disregard for sanctions or its international reputation.

"It may be a signal for foreign journalists to know their boundaries, and for Russian journalists as well," she said.

She also noted that Gershkovich was working on a sensitive topic - the Wagner Group - at a time when Russia's leaders are paying close attention to battlefield setbacks and the Russian public's attitude toward the ongoing conflict.

Russia has tightened censorship laws since it sent tens of thousands of troops into Ukraine in February 2022, broadening the definition of what constitutes a state secret and setting prison terms for those deemed to have "discredited" the military.

"The problem is that recently updated Russian legislation and the FSB's interpretation of espionage today allow for the imprisonment of anyone who is simply interested in military affairs," said Tatiana Stanovaya, a Kremlin watcher and founder of the R.Politik political analysis firm.

A swap for Gershkovich would be complicated by the continuing detention in a Russian penal colony of former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan on espionage charges that Washington also says are a sham.

The Biden administration faced criticism when Griner was freed because of Whelan's continuing detention.

Prominent Russians currently imprisoned in the United States include Roman Seleznev, the son of a Russian lawmaker arrested for online credit card fraud, and wealthy businessman Vladislav Klyushin, convicted of hacking U.S. computer networks to get information for stock trades.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said it was too early to talk of a possible exchange.

US reporter's detention in Russia on spy charges widens rift between nuclear rivals

Related Articles

Add a Comment

Comment Guidelines

We encourage you to use comments to engage with other users, share your perspective and ask questions of authors and each other. However, in order to maintain the high level of discourse we’ve all come to value and expect, please keep the following criteria in mind:  

  •            Enrich the conversation, don’t trash it.

  •           Stay focused and on track. Only post material that’s relevant to the topic being discussed. 

  •           Be respectful. Even negative opinions can be framed positively and diplomatically. Avoid profanity, slander or personal attacks directed at an author or another user. Racism, sexism and other forms of discrimination will not be tolerated.

  • Use standard writing style. Include punctuation and upper and lower cases. Comments that are written in all caps and contain excessive use of symbols will be removed.
  • NOTE: Spam and/or promotional messages and comments containing links will be removed. Phone numbers, email addresses, links to personal or business websites, Skype/Telegram/WhatsApp etc. addresses (including links to groups) will also be removed; self-promotional material or business-related solicitations or PR (ie, contact me for signals/advice etc.), and/or any other comment that contains personal contact specifcs or advertising will be removed as well. In addition, any of the above-mentioned violations may result in suspension of your account.
  • Doxxing. We do not allow any sharing of private or personal contact or other information about any individual or organization. This will result in immediate suspension of the commentor and his or her account.
  • Don’t monopolize the conversation. We appreciate passion and conviction, but we also strongly believe in giving everyone a chance to air their point of view. Therefore, in addition to civil interaction, we expect commenters to offer their opinions succinctly and thoughtfully, but not so repeatedly that others are annoyed or offended. If we receive complaints about individuals who take over a thread or forum, we reserve the right to ban them from the site, without recourse.
  • Only English comments will be allowed.
  • Any comment you publish, together with your profile, will be public on and may be indexed and available through third party search engines, such as Google.

Perpetrators of spam or abuse will be deleted from the site and prohibited from future registration at’s discretion.

Write your thoughts here
Are you sure you want to delete this chart?
Post also to:
Replace the attached chart with a new chart ?
Your ability to comment is currently suspended due to negative user reports. Your status will be reviewed by our moderators.
Please wait a minute before you try to comment again.
Thanks for your comment. Please note that all comments are pending until approved by our moderators. It may therefore take some time before it appears on our website.
Are you sure you want to delete this chart?
Replace the attached chart with a new chart ?
Your ability to comment is currently suspended due to negative user reports. Your status will be reviewed by our moderators.
Please wait a minute before you try to comment again.
Add Chart to Comment
Confirm Block

Are you sure you want to block %USER_NAME%?

By doing so, you and %USER_NAME% will not be able to see any of each other's's posts.

%USER_NAME% was successfully added to your Block List

Since you’ve just unblocked this person, you must wait 48 hours before renewing the block.

Report this comment

I feel that this comment is:

Comment flagged

Thank You!

Your report has been sent to our moderators for review
Continue with Google
Sign up with Email