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A journalist with the Wall Street Journal, Evan Gershkovich, has been arrested in Russia on suspicion of espionage, according to Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), the country’s main security force.

State news agency TASS reported he was detained in Yekaterinburg, on the eastern side of the Ural Mountains.

Here’s what we know:

About Gershkovich: According to Gershkovich’s bio page on the Wall Street Journal’s website, he covers Russia, Ukraine and the former Soviet Union. He previously worked for news agency Agence France-Presse, the Moscow Times and the New York Times. 

How the FSB described the arrest: “The illegal activities of the correspondent of the Moscow bureau of the American newspaper The Wall Street Journal, US citizen Evan Gershkovich, born in 1991, accredited at the Russian Foreign Ministry, suspected of espionage in the interests of the American government, have been suppressed,” it said in a statement. Gershkovich was detained “while trying to obtain secret information” relating to “the activities of one of the enterprises of the Russian military-industrial complex.”

What the Russian government is saying: Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said the arrest was a “prerogative of the FSB.” In a regular call with reporters, he added, “as far as we know, he was caught red-handed.” Russian authorities often make baseless claims about the work of foreign journalists.

Russian Foreign Ministry’s response: Its spokesperson, Maria Zakharova, said Gershkovich’s work in Yekaterinburg, Russia, had “nothing to do with journalism.”

“Unfortunately, this is not the first time that the status of a ‘foreign correspondent,’ a journalistic visa and accreditation are used by foreigners in our country to cover up activities that are not related to journalism. This is not the first well-known Westerner to be ‘grabbed by the hand’,” Zakharova said on Telegram.

Zakharova and the ministry routinely make baseless claims about the work and the motives of foreign journalists in Russia.

How the Wall Street Journal is responding: The newspaper has had a decades-long presence in Moscow. In a statement, the company said it “vehemently denies the allegations from the FSB and seeks the immediate release of our trusted and dedicated reporter, Evan Gershkovich. We stand in solidarity with Evan and his family.”

A first since the Cold War: Gershkovich is the first US journalist to be accused of spying by Russia since 1986, when journalist Nick Daniloff was detained on a similar charge amid strained US-Soviet Union ties. Daniloff was arrested during the end of his assignment for working for US News and World Report, and he was imprisoned for weeks in isolated conditions while before the Reagan administration negotiated his release. 

Russia has been cracking down on independent journalists: Gershkovich’s arrest comes amid a crackdown in Russia on independent journalists and foreign news outlets in the wake of its invasion of Ukraine. In March 2022, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin signed a censorship bill into law making it impossible for news organizations to accurately report the news in or from Russia. The law, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, makes it a crime to disseminate what it deems “fake” information about the invasion of Ukraine, with a penalty of up to 15 years in prison for anyone convicted.

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