Jailed US reporter Evan Gershkovich to stand trial in Russia on espionage charges, authorities say

Evan Gershkovich, the first American journalist to be arrested on espionage charges in Russia since the Cold War, will stand trial in the Russian city of Yekaterinburg after prosecutors formally accused him of spying for the CIA.

The Russian Prosecutor General’s office said Thursday it had approved the indictment, more than a year after Gershkovich was first detained. If convicted, he faces up to 20 years in prison.

Gershkovich, the US government and his employer, the Wall Street Journal, have vehemently denied the charges against him. Less than two weeks after his arrest, Gershkovich was designated as wrongfully detained by the US State Department, which called for his immediate release.

Russian prosecutors said the country’s federal security service (FSB) had “established and documented” that Gershkovich was acting on CIA instructions in the month he was arrested, alleging he had “collected secret information” about a Russian tank factory.

“Gershkovich carried out the illegal actions using painstaking conspiratorial methods,” it said in a statement.

US State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller on Thursday said the allegations against Gershkovich have “absolutely zero credibility.”

“We have been clear from the start that Evan has done nothing wrong. He should never have been arrested in the first place. Journalism is not a crime. The charges against him are false, and the Russian government knows that they’re false. He should be released immediately,” Miller said at a State Department briefing.

In the year since his arrest, the 32-year-old journalist has been imprisoned in Moscow’s notorious Lefortovo Prison, and his pre-trial detention period had been extended numerous times.

On Thursday, the State Department’s top hostage official confirmed “as of today, Evan’s detention and the investigative process has ended.”

Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs Roger Carstens said Gershkovich was likely to be moved from Lefortovo to Yekaterinburg – more than 800 miles away –before the end of June, and was then likely to stand trial in that city.

“If it’s anything like what happened to Brittney Griner, Paul Whelan, Trevor Reed, there’ll be a period when he leaves Lefortovo where we won’t have any contact with him,” Carstens explained, referencing other Americans wrongfully detained in Russia.

“It’ll almost be like it’s gone dark, but eventually, an American or I would say, a detainee surfaces in Yekaterinburg and we’ll have a chance to reestablish that connectivity from there,” Carstens said at a congressional hearing.

Responding to Thursday’s announcement, WSJ Editor-in-Chief Emma Tucker said Gershkovich is facing a “false and baseless” charge.

“Russia’s latest move toward a sham trial is, while expected, deeply disappointing and still no less outrageous. Evan has spent 441 days wrongfully detained in a Russian prison for simply doing his job. Evan is a journalist. The Russian regime’s smearing of Evan is repugnant, disgusting and based on calculated and transparent lies. Journalism is not a crime. Evan’s case is an assault on free press,” Tucker said in a statement.

Reporters Without Borders, an international group promoting press freedom, denounced Gershkovich’s indictment. “The espionage accusations must be abandoned and Evan immediately liberated,” it said in a statement.

US Ambassador to Russia Lynne Tracy, speaking after Gershkovich’s pre-trial detention was extended in March, said: “Evan’s case is not about evidence, due process, or rule of law. It is about using American citizens as pawns to achieve political ends.” She called on the Kremlin “to let Evan go.”

Proposed swaps

Miller, the State Department spokesperson, reiterated on Thursday that the US would continue to pursue Gershkovich’s release, as well that of Whelan, a former US marine who was arrested in Moscow in 2018 and sentenced to 16 years in prison on espionage charges he and the US deny.

“We put a substantial offer on the table to secure the release of Evan and Paul Whelan some months ago, as we said,” Miller said. “Obviously, we’re continuing to work to secure their release. We don’t talk about all the details of that publicly.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin hinted earlier in the year that “an agreement can be reached” with the United States to release Gershkovich, as he brought up the conviction of a “patriotic” Russian hitman in Germany.

Speaking in a lengthy and at times ponderous interview with American right-wing pundit Tucket Carlson in February, Putin alluded to the case of Vadim Krasikov, a former colonel from Russia’s domestic spy organization who was convicted of assassinating a former Chechen fighter in broad daylight in Berlin in 2019.

“Listen, I’ll tell you: sitting in one country, a country that is an ally of the United States, is a man who, for patriotic reasons, eliminated a bandit in one of the European capitals,” Putin said.

Russian government officials have previously requested that Krasikov be released as part of a proposed prisoner swap of notorious Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout for US citizens Griner and Whelan according to US officials and CNN reporting.

Griner, a professional basketball player, was freed in a prisoner exchange for Bout while Whelan remains in prison.

Speaking to CNN in Berlin to mark the year since Gershkovich’s detention, Polina Ivanova – one of his closest friends and a reporter at the Financial Times – said he was doing “remarkably well” and passing most of his time writing letters “trying to make us feel better.”

“When you see Putin talk about it in very clear terms that this is what they want to see happen, that they are looking for a deal, it gives you hope that at some point he will be home. He needs to be home,” Ivanova said.

In recent years, Russia has detained a number of other Americans. Russian-American journalist Alsu Kurmasheva was detained in June 2023, Russian-American ballerina Ksenia Karelina was arrested in January, and American teacher Marc Fogel was arrested in August 2021.

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