Putin Authorized Wall Street Journal Reporter Arrest, Spying Charges: Report

Russian President Vladimir Putin authorized Kremlin officials to arrest American journalist Evan Gershkovich on espionage charges, according to Bloomberg News.

Russian authorities arrested Gershkovich, 31, last month while he was on a reporting trip in Yekaterinburg, located in the Ural Mountains — becoming the first arrest of an American journalist on espionage charges since 1986.

The outlet reported that sources familiar with the matter said Putin’s arrest of the Wall Street Journal reporter marks “the growing influence of Kremlin hardliners who push for deepening a confrontation with Washington they view as irreversible.”

The Russian Foreign Ministry claimed the United States was politicizing Gershokovich’s detention, saying, “it is unacceptable for officials in Washington and the Western media to whip up a stir with the clear intention of giving this case a political colouring.”

“Blinken’s attention was drawn to the need to respect the decisions of the Russian authorities, taken in accordance with the law and international obligations of the Russian Federation,” the foreign ministry said.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken formally declared on Sunday that Russian authorities had wrongfully detained Gershkovich, giving federal officials additional resources to secure his release, including giving the State Department access to “exert pressure on Moscow, monitor intelligence, build diplomatic coalitions, exert media pressure and fight for regular consular access,” the Journal reported.

Blinken announced the official classification involving Gershkovich, who was arrested two weeks ago on accusations of espionage by Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB). The category gives control to the Office of the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs at the State Department to handle the situation.

“Journalism is not a crime,” Vedant Patel, a State Department spokesperson, told NBC in a statement. “We condemn the Kremlin’s continued repression of independent voices in Russia and its ongoing war against the truth.”


Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told The Wall Street Journal following the declaration from Blinken that he doesn’t understand what changes under the classification.

“What it means— I don’t know,” Peskov said. “The United States could and should protect the rights of its citizen who was caught red-handed [and] violated the relevant laws of the Russian Federation. He is suspected of such. Naturally, the decision will be made by the court. [That’s] all there is to say.”

Peskov denied Putin’s involvement in the arrest, saying it was “the total prerogative of the special services.”

“They were doing their job,” he added, despite those agencies being required to report to Putin directly.

Kremlin officials claim they caught Gershkovich “red-handed while trying to obtain secret information, collecting data constituting a state secret under the guise of a journalistic status,” but have provided no evidence. He faces up to 20 years in prison.

The Wall Street Journal “vehemently denies” the allegations, as did Gershkovich in a court appearance after his arrest.

Blinken spoke with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov last week, calling for the “immediate release” of Gershkovich, and Paul Whelan, a U.S. Marine veteran detained in the country since 2018.

President Joe Biden recently told reporters that his message to Russia regarding Gershkovich was “let him go.”

White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby on Monday also called for the release of Gershkovich.

“He doesn’t belong there,” Kirby said. “He needs to be released. He’s a journalist, not a criminal — and it doesn’t mean that we aren’t going to continue to follow this case as closely as we can. We still don’t have consular access, and we’re also trying to get that.”

Alina Polyakova, president of the Center for European Policy Analysis in Washington, told Bloomberg the move from Putin should serve as a “real wake-up call” to the West.

“It’s signaling that in Putin’s mindset that there’s no going back to a stable and reliable relationship,” Polyakova said.

Polyakova said with public pressure focused on the case, it could force the U.S. to negotiate with Russia.

“The Russians are getting far more aggressive, and they’ve seen that when you take high-profile U.S. citizens hostage, you get what you want,” she added.

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