LONDON – Russia’s FSB security service said on Thursday it had detained a reporter for The Wall Street Journal on suspicion of spying for Washington, the most serious public move against a foreign journalist since Russia invaded Ukraine.
The FSB said in a statement that it had opened a criminal case for suspected espionage against U.S. national Evan Gershkovich, accusing him of gathering information classified as a state secret about a military factory.
It did not name the factory or say where it was, but said it had detained him in the Urals city of Yekaterinburg as he was trying to procure secret information. It provided no evidence.
“It has been established that E. Gershkovich, acting on an assignment from the American side, was gathering information classified as a state secret about the activity of one of the enterprises of Russia’s military-industrial complex,” the FSB said in its statement.
Russia has tightened censorship laws since it sent tens of thousands of troops into Ukraine on Feb. 24 last year in what it called a “special military operation.”
The Wall Street Journal and the U.S. Embassy in Moscow did not immediately respond to Reuters’ requests for comment.
A U.S. diplomatic source said the embassy had not been informed about the incident and was seeking information from the Russian authorities about the case.
Other foreign journalists covering Russia expressed support for Gershkovich online, saying he was a professional journalist, not a spy.
Andrei Soldatov, an author and expert in Russia’s security agencies who is outside the country, said on social media:
“Evan Gershkovich is a very good and brave journalist, not a spy, for Christ’s sake. It (his detention) is a frontal attack on all foreign correspondents who still work in Russia. And it means that the FSB is off the leash.”
Russia’s Kommersant newspaper reported that Gershkovich would be transported to Moscow and held in the capital’s Lefortovo prison, an FSB pre-trial detention facility.
Gershkovich, who has covered Russia since 2017, previously worked at The Moscow Times newspaper and at France’s Agence-France Presse news agency.
In recent months, he had primarily covered Russian politics and the conflict in Ukraine.
His mobile phone could not be reached on Thursday and, according to the Telegram messenger service, he was last online on Wednesday at 1:28 p.m. Moscow time.