Russia arrests Wall Street Journal reporter and accuses him of spying for US

The arrest of Evan Gershkovich has shocked the United States, which has condemned it 'in the strongest terms', as US Correspondent Dan Rivers reports

Russia's security service has arrested an American journalist, who has been accused of spying for the United States.

Evan Gershkovich, who works for The Wall Street Journal, was detained in the city of Yekaterinburg, becoming the first American reporter to be detained on spying accusations since the Cold War.

Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) has alleged that Mr Gershkovich "was acting on instructions from the American side to collect information about the activities of one of the enterprises of the Russian military-industrial complex that constitutes a state secret."

The Journal, meanwhile, said in a statement that 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," it added.

The arrest comes at a moment of bitter tensions between the West and Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine, and as the Kremlin intensifies a crackdown on opposition activists, independent journalists and civil society groups.

Activists have warned that the very profession of journalism in Russia is criminalised, along with the activities of ordinary Russians who oppose the war.

Earlier this week, a Russian court convicted a father over social media posts critical of the war, sentencing him to two years in prison.

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Mr Gershkovich is the first American reporter to be arrested on espionage charges in Russia since September 1986, when Nicholas Daniloff, a Moscow correspondent for US News and World Report, was arrested by the KGB.

Mr Daniloff was released without charge 20 days later in a swap for an employee of the Soviet Union's United Nations mission, who was arrested by the FBI, also on spying charges.

On Thursday, a Moscow court ruled that Mr Gershkovich, who covers Russia, Ukraine and other ex-Soviet nations as a correspondent in the Journal's Moscow bureau, will be kept behind bars pending the investigation.

He could face up to 20 years in prison if convicted of espionage.

Evan Gershkovich works for The Wall Street Journal. Credit: AP

US President Joe Biden's administration said it had spoken with the Journal and Mr Gershkovich's family.

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre condemned the arrest "in the strongest terms" and urged Americans to heed government warnings not to travel to Russia.

Elsewhere, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters: "It is not about a suspicion, it is about the fact that he was caught red-handed."

Prominent lawyers have cautioned that past investigations into espionage cases have taken a year to 18 months, during which time Mr Gershkovich may have little contact with the outside world.

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