Last week, Bloomberg News reported that it was Russian President Vladimir Putin who authorized the arrest of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich on espionage charges.
The first American journalist to be arrested on espionage charges since 1986, Gershkovich, 31, was arrested in March while he was in Yekaterinburg in the Ural Mountains.
According to Bloomberg, sources familiar with the matter said Gershkovich’s arrest is a sign of “the growing influence” of hardliners in the Kremlin who are pushing President Putin to deepen a “confrontation with Washington” which the sources view as irreversible.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry accused Washington of politicizing Gershkovich’s detention.
Last week, Secretary of State Antony Blinken accused Moscow of wrongfully detaining Gershkovich and said he has provided additional resources to the State Department to “exert pressure on Moscow,” including monitoring intelligence, fighting for regular consular access to Gershkovich, building diplomatic coalitions, and exerting media pressure on the Kremlin, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Blinken also announced that the State Department reclassified Gershkovich as a hostage to allow the Office of the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs to oversee the situation.
In a statement to the Wall Street Journal, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said he didn’t know how reclassifying Gershkovich would change anything. He said the US “could and should” protect a citizen “who was caught red-handed” violating the “relevant laws of the Russian Federation” as Gershkovich is suspected of doing. Peskov said the decision on the journalist’s fate “will be made by the court.”
Peskov denied the claim that President Putin was directly involved in Gershkovich’s arrest, saying it was the decision of the Russian security service, the FSB, which said Gershkovich was caught “red-handed” attempting to obtain secret information “under the guise of a journalistic status.”
Both Gershkovich and the Wall Street Journal deny the allegations.
Gershkovich faces up to 20 years in prison.