Evan Gershkovich
© AFP/GettyEvan Gershkovich was detained in Russia on suspicion of spying for the US
Moscow's Lefortovo district court on Thursday ordered US journalist Evan Gershkovich to be arrested on spying charges and held in pre-trial detention until May 29.

Gershkovich, 31, was detained in Yekaterinburg in the Urals where he was on an assignment for The Wall Street Journal. Gershkovich told the court on Thursday that he was not guilty of espionage, something he has been accused of by the FSB security service, the state TASS news agency reported.

The reporter - an accredited foreign correspondent in Moscow - was held over alleged 'illegal activities' and was 'suspected of espionage for the US government', the FSB said. Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesman said Gershkovich had been 'caught red-handed'. He could face up to 20 years in prison if convicted of espionage.

The Journal said in a statement: 'The Wall Street Journal 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.'

The FSB said that Gershkovich 'was acting on the US orders to collect information about the activities of one of the enterprises of the Russian military industrial complex that constitutes a state secret'.

'While trying to obtain secret information, an American was detained in Yekaterinburg,' said the FSB, which provided no evidence for its accusations.

The FSB is a domestic security and counterintelligence agency that is the top successor agency to the Soviet-era KGB.

Putin's spokesman prejudged Evan Gershkovich before any investigation or trial.

'There was already a statement from the FSB,' he said.

'The only thing I can say is that, as far as we know, he was caught red-handed.'

He did not elaborate on what he is believed to have been caught 'red-handed' for.

Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova also implied the journalist was guilty before any due process.
'What an employee of the American edition of The Wall Street Journal was doing in Yekaterinburg has nothing to do with journalism,' she said.

'Unfortunately, this is not the first time that the status of "foreign correspondent", a journalistic visa and accreditation, are used by foreigners in our country to cover up activities that are not journalism.

'This is not the first well-known Westerner to be "grabbed by the hand".'
Reports suggest Gershkovich was held last night at the Bukowski Grill restaurant and led by plain-clothed officers to a waiting vehicle with a sweater pulled over his head.

Russian reports suggest he had gone to Yekaterinburg to write about the attitude of people to the war unleashed by Putin in Ukraine, and the recruitment of locals for the Wagner private military company.

There was concern for Gershkovich when he failed to make contact with his editorial office.

Russian independent journalist Dmitry Kolezev said he had spoken to Gershkovich before he went to Yekaterinburg and warned him that he would be '100% monitored' from the moment he arrived.

Kolezev said: 'He understood this well, but he was sure that since he was not doing anything illegal, everything would be limited to ordinary surveillance and, perhaps, some kind of intimidation.

'It turned out much worse.'

He insisted: 'Evan is a very brave guy, a good journalist, not a spy at all.'

It is unclear why Gershkovich was detained but Kolezev said he had intended to try and speak to workers outside a tank plant in Nizhny Tagil or the Novator Design Bureau in Yekaterinburg - a manufacturer of long-range anti-aircraft missiles.

'Both enterprises are easily located on any public map, their location is not a secret,' said Kolezev.

He added: 'It seemed to me not only dangerous, but also unpromising, because it is unlikely that anyone will talk to an American in the current situation.

'Evan has good Russian, but the American is easily guessed in him.

'I do not know in the end whether he realized this idea, but for sure the very fact of the appearance of an American citizen, not far from the place where tanks or missiles are made, the FSB today considers espionage.'

But he said: 'In any case, the plot of the case does not really matter - he was taken as a hostage for an exchange, and in fact it does not matter at all what they formally [accuse him of doing].

'The decision on his fate will be made not in court and not during the investigation, but at negotiations between Russia and the United States.'

Gershkovich has lived in Moscow for six years, working as a journalist. He is a US citizen born to parents from the Soviet Union.

Local sources said Gershkovich had made a trip to the city several weeks ago and had returned this week. Before joining The Wall Street Journal, Gershkovich worked for AFP in Moscow. He was previously a reporter based in the Russian capital for The Moscow Times, an English-language news website.

Russia has seldom made allegations of espionage against Western correspondents accredited to the country.

However, many accredited correspondents from Western media outlets left the country when the war started 13 months ago amid concerns it was unsafe to remain.

Political analyst Tatiana Stanovaya suggested Gershkovich had been 'taken hostage' by the FSB.

Moscow has been accused in the past of arresting foreigners - especially Americans - to use in barter exchanges for Russians detained in the US.

Gershkovich's arrest comes amid bitter tensions between Moscow and Washington over the fighting in Ukraine. Several US citizens are currently in detention in Russia and both Washington and Moscow have accused the other of carrying out politically-motivated arrests.

The FSB in January opened a criminal case against a US citizen it said was suspected of espionage but did not name the individual.

Paul Whelan, a former US Marine, was arrested in Russia in 2018 and handed a 16-year sentence on espionage charges. He is detained in a penal colony south of Moscow.

The US says he was a private citizen visiting Moscow on personal business and has demanded his release.

There have been several high-profile prisoner exchanges between Moscow and Washington over the past year.

In December, Moscow freed US basketball star Brittney Griner - arrested for bringing cannabis oil into the country - in exchange for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.

Russian authorities have also used espionage charges against Russian journalists.

Last year, Russia jailed a respected defence reporter, Ivan Safronov, for 22 years on treason charges. Safronov worked for business newspapers Kommersant and was one of Russia's most prominent journalists covering defence.

Gershkovich's arrest comes as Western journalists in Russia face increasing restrictions.

Staff of Western media outlets often report being tailed, particularly during trips outside of major urban hubs of Moscow and Saint Petersburg.

Many Russians fear speaking to foreign media, due to strict censorship laws adopted in the wake of the Ukraine offensive.

The Wagner Group, one of the subjects Gershkovich is reported to have been writing on, is led by close Putin ally Yevgeny Prigozhin.

Wagner mercenaries are deployed to further Russian interests abroad by doing the jobs that no official military branch could be associated with. They have earned a reputation for using sheer force and brutality to achieve their goals.

Prigozhin, 61, the chief financier and founder of PMC Wagner, claims his contractors are deployed across the border to help achieve the Russian president's goal - the so-called 'denazification' of Ukraine. The group has for years acted as Putin's personal band of enforcers, though it maintains connections with Russia's foreign military intelligence agency, the GRU.

Founded in 2014, Wagner contractors got straight to work following the annexation of Crimea, arming and organizing separatist groups in the Donbas region of Ukraine and setting in motion events which culminated earlier this year in Putin's full-scale invasion.