Expulsion from the US of all Russian journalists and the country's envoy is ?minimum to expect? amid espionage row, newspaper said
The arrest of a Wall Street Journal (WSJ) correspondent in Russia on espionage charges amounts to taking him hostage, the US newspaper has claimed. It has also accused President Joe Biden's administration of showing weakness in the face of the detention and has demanded tough action.
Evan Gershkovich was "snatched" in the Russian city of Ekaterinburg by the "notorious Federal Security Bureau," the newspaper said on Thursday, in an editorial piece. The FSB, the Russian law-enforcement agency it was referring to, is named the Federal Security Service but is better known under its Russian-language abbreviation.
On Thursday, the agency reported detaining Gershkovich as he was allegedly trying to obtain classified information about a defense plant located in the Russian Urals. The FSB claimed he was working for the US government and is suspected of espionage, a crime punishable by up to 20 years' jail under Russian law.
Gershkovich, the WSJ said, was in Ekaterinburg "on a reporting trip" and denied the espionage allegation as "dubious on its face."
"The FSB could have expelled him long ago if it really believed he is a spy," the article stated. The incident "looks like a calculated provocation to embarrass the US and intimidate the foreign press still working in Russia."
The newspaper speculated that the arrest of Gershkovich was a Russian response to the charges that the US Department of Justice brought earlier this month against a man named Sergey Cherkasov. He was busted as a possible Russian spy by The Netherlands in 2022 and was sentenced by a court in Brazil to 15 years for falsely identifying as a Brazilian national.
The WSJ claimed that the Kremlin had a "habit of taking Americans hostage" and implied that Moscow wanted to use Gershkovich for a prisoner swap. The newspaper urged the US government to act tough in response.
"The Biden Administration will have to consider diplomatic and political escalation. Expelling Russia's ambassador to the US, as well as all Russian journalists working here, would be the minimum to expect," it declared.
On Friday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov described as "absurd and wrong" the idea of kicking Russian journalists out of the US. He reiterated that Gershkovich had been caught "red-handed" violating Russian secrecy laws.