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WSJ reporter Evan Gershkovich detained in Russia on suspicion of espionage

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Evan Gershkovich, a reporter for The Wall Street Journal, recently detained in Yekaterinburg, has been arrested until May 29 by Moscow's Lefortovo District Court on suspicion of espionage, according to a report from state-run news agency TASS. Gershkovich is suspected of collecting information about an enterprise from Russia’s military-industrial complex – which constitutes a state secret – at the request of the United States.

In Yekaterinburg, Gershkovich was working on a story about the attitude of Russians toward the Wagner Private Military Company (PMC), and interviewed local resident Yaroslav Shirshikov as part of the piece. Shirshikov accompanied Gershkovich around the city and introduced him to other potential interviewees. According to the Yekaterinburg resident, Gershkovich worked in the city for two weeks, after which he returned to Moscow. On the night of March 30, Shirshikov received a call from the WSJ informing him that Gershkovich was back in Yekaterinburg and had been out of contact for more than nine hours.

On March 29, the Vecherniye Vedomosti newspaper reported that one of its readers witnessed the arrest outside the Bukowski Grill restaurant in Yekaterinburg's Karl Liebknecht Street, where Shirshikov and Gershkovich had met. Plainclothes law enforcement officers took Gershkovich into a minibus and pulled a sweater over his head.

A source among Western journalists working in Moscow told Meduza that in addition to visiting Yekaterinburg, Gershkovich traveled to Nizhny Tagil, where the defense enterprise Uralvagonzavod is based.

Ilya Barabanov, a special correspondent for the BBC's Russian Service, commented on the arrest:

“I last saw the WSJ's Evan Gershkovich before the war in Peredelkino, near Moscow, where he had temporarily moved to get away from the noisy capital. He has a brilliant command of the Russian language, and was interested in writing specifically about Russia, although he could have made a fine career in any other, safer country.
Evan knows all the journalists in Moscow, he is friends with many, and when Dozhd journalist Masha Borzunova was recognized as a foreign agent last summer, it later turned out that her friend Evan had made a small translation for her.
Evan wrote on all the key topics related to Russia and Ukraine for the WSJ. The independent journalistic community is certain that he was not engaged in espionage, and that the Russian authorities simply needed a new 'hostage' to replenish the exchange fund.”

Gershkovich, 31, has worked as a journalist in Russia since 2017. Before joining the WSJ, he worked at Agence France-Presse and The Moscow Times, as well as an assistant at the NYT in New York. The Bowdoin College graduate most recently wrote about the impact of Western sanctions on the Russian economy.

The journalist may face up to 20 years in prison on espionage charges.

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