An American journalist assigned to cover the ongoing military conflict in Ukraine has been detained by government officials in Russia amid accusations of espionage.
The arrest of Evan Gershkovich was confirmed in a statement published Thursday by the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), the country’s foreign intelligence agency.
Gershkovich is employed by the Wall Street Journal newspaper and was assigned to cover issues focused on Ukraine and Russia from the newspaper’s Moscow bureau. The newspaper denied all allegations of espionage, and the Russian government has provided no evidence to substantiate the charge.
At the White House, U.S. President Joe Biden was briefed on Gershkovich’s detention, a spokesperson said Thursday afternoon. The White House later issued a strong condemnation of Russia’s decision to detain the reporter on apparently baseless accusations of spying.
During a press briefing with reporters, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre suggested Gershkovich may be partially to blame for his own detention, because government officials have previously warned against traveling to Russia during its year-long military conflict with Ukraine, which Russia provoked.
“We’ve been very clear about Americans not going to Russia — it is not safe,” Jean-Pierre affirmed.
The response from the U.S. State Department focused more on Russia’s reputation of targeting reporters who publish accurate and objective journalism.
“In the strongest possible terms, we condemn the Kremlin’s continued attempts to intimidate, repress, and punish journalists and civil society voices,” Vedant Patel, the deputy spokesperson for the U.S. Secretary of State’s office, told reporters on Thursday.
The reporter’s detention comes one week after prosecutors in the United States charged a Russian citizen, Sergey Vladimirovich Cherkasov, with a variety of criminal offenses, mostly fraud. Gershkovich’s arrest may have been retaliatory following the charges against Cherkasov, some U.S. officials speculated.
The Journal noted that criminal trials on espionage charges are usually held in secret, and courts rarely acquit a defendant of the charges against them. Gershkovich is the first American journalist to be arrested by Russian officials since the end of the Cold War.