Russia says US journalist Evan Gershkovich to face trial for ‘CIA work’

Wall Street Journal rejects ‘false and baseless’ charge against 32-year-old reporter who has been in custody since March 2023.

Evan Gershkovich
Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich in a portrait supplied by his newspaper [The Wall Street Journal via Reuters]

Russian prosecutors have said US journalist Evan Gershkovich will face trial in the Ural city of Yekaterinburg, where he was detained more than a year ago after he was accused of working for the CIA.

Gershkovich, 32, is accused of “gathering secret information” on orders from the CIA about Uralvagonzavod, a facility that produces and repairs military equipment, the prosecutor general’s office said in a statement, revealing for the first time the details of the accusations against him. The statement gave no date for the trial.

Gershkovich, a journalist with the Wall Street Journal, has been in jail since he was arrested in Yekaterinburg, about 1,400 kilometres (870 miles) east of Moscow, on March 29, 2023, and was accused of spying. He denies any wrongdoing.

Following the Russian announcement, the Journal said that Gershkovich was facing “a false and baseless charge”. A joint statement from Almar Latour, the newspaper’s publisher, and its editor-in-chief, Emma Tucker, demanded Gershkovich’s immediate release.

“Russia’s latest move toward a sham trial is, while expected, deeply disappointing and still no less outrageous,” the statement said.

“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.”

Evan Gershkovich in a glass-walled dock in a Moscow court. He is waving.
Gershkovich at his appearance in a Moscow court on April 23 [Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP Photo]

The United States designated Gershkovich “wrongfully detained” in April 2023, and President Joe Biden has called his detention “totally illegal”.

Latour and Tucker said they now expected the US government to step up efforts to secure his release.

US State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said Washington would continue to work to bring Gershkovich home.

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

Potential prisoner swap

Gershkovich was the first US journalist to be arrested on spying charges in Russia since the Cold War, as Moscow enacted increasingly repressive laws on freedom of speech after sending troops into Ukraine. Washington has sought to negotiate his release, but Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Moscow would consider a prisoner swap only after a verdict in his trial.

Asked last week by The Associated Press news agency about Gershkovich, Russian President Vladimir Putin said the US was “taking energetic steps” to secure the journalist’s release. He told international news agencies in a rare news conference that any such releases “aren’t decided via mass media” but through a “discreet, calm and professional approach”.

“And they certainly should be decided only on the basis of reciprocity,” he added, alluding to a potential prisoner swap.

Gershkovich faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

The Uralvagonzavod factory, about 100km (60 miles) north of Yekaterinburg, has been sanctioned by Western countries. Based in the city of Nizhny Tagil in the Sverdlovsk region, it plays a crucial role in supplying tanks for Moscow’s war in Ukraine, according to the Russian Ministry of Defence.

The factory, which is run by a state conglomerate controlled by one of Putin’s allies, has publicly spoken of producing T-90M battle tanks and modernising T-72B3M tanks.

The number of tanks which Russia has lost in battle in Ukraine is a military secret in Russia, which says it has ramped up tank production.

The London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies think tank said in February that Russia had lost more than 3,000 tanks – the equivalent of its entire pre-war active inventory – but had enough lower-quality armoured vehicles in storage for years of replacements.

Source: News Agencies