Bloomberg News reported recently that Vladimir Putin, the president of Russia, himself authorized the arrest of Evan Gershkovich, an American journalist, on charges of espionage.
In March, the 31-year-old Gershkovich was arrested by Russian authorities while he was reporting for The Wall Street Journal in the Ural Mountains town of Yekaterinburg. It’s the first time that a journalist from the U.S. was arrested on charges of espionage since back in 1986.
Sources who were in the know about how it all went down told Bloomberg news that the arrest of the report marks “the growing influence of Kremlin hardliners who push for deepening a confrontation with Washington they view as irreversible.”
Since the arrest, the Russian Foreign Ministry has claimed that the U.S. was making the detention of Gershkovich a political matter. The foreign ministry said:
“It is unacceptable for officials in Washington and the Western media to whip up a stir with the clear intention of giving this case a political coloring. [U.S. Attorney General Antony] Blinken’s attention was drawn to the need to respect the decisions of the Russian authorities, taken in accordance with the law and international obligations of the Russian Federation.”
Last week, Blinked declared formally that authorities in Russia wrongfully arrested Gershkovich. In doing so, he supplied federal officials with more resources to try to secure the journalist’s release.
That includes providing the Department of State with access to “exert pressure on Moscow, monitor intelligence, build diplomatic coalitions, exert media pressure and fight for regular consular access,” according to a report in the Journal.
The official category that Blinken put Gershkovich’s arrest in puts control of the situation in the hands of the Office of the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs at the State Department.
A spokesperson for the State Department, Vedant Patel, provided a statement to NBC recently that said:
“Journalism is not a crime. We condemn the Kremlin’s continued repression of independent voices in Russia and its ongoing war against the truth.”
For its part, Russia is trying to take an uneducated view about what Blinken’s actions really mean. Speaking to The Wall Street Journal directly, Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for the Kremlin, said:
“What it means [Blinken’s classification], I don’t know. The United States could and should protect the rights of its citizen who was caught red-handed [and] violated the relevant laws of the Russian Federation. He is suspected of such. Naturally, the decision will be made by the court. [That’s] all there is to say.”
He also added that Putin wasn’t involved in Gershkovic’s arrest. He said it was “the total prerogative of the special services. They were doing their job.”
This, of course, is even though these agencies are required to directly report everything to Putin.
Gershkovich could spend 20 years in a Russian prison if he is found guilty of the charges being levied against him. While officials with the Kremlin haven’t provided any evidence to back up their claims, they said the journalist was caught “red-handed while trying to obtain secret information, collecting data constituting a state secret under the guise of a journalistic status.”