April 7, 2023

Evan Gershkovich

“A Moscow court will consider an appeal by lawyers of jailed Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich to lift his pre-trial detention… Gershkovich, a U.S. citizen, was arrested last week in the Urals city of Yekaterinburg on espionage charges decried as bogus by the Wall Street Journal, Western leaders and the reporter's colleagues.” Reuters

Here’s our coverage of the prisoner swap for Brittney Griner. The Flip Side

Both sides condemn the arrest and call for a strong US response:

“My friend Evan Gershkovich is no spy. Just a brave reporter… Like many journalists, Evan left Russia following the outbreak of the Ukraine war, temporarily settling in London. But, over the summer, he went back. He had a Russian visa and journalistic accreditation that were still valid and he felt it was his professional duty to report on arguably the biggest story of our generation… He said he felt privileged to be able to report from inside the country when many of our Russian colleagues and friends had to flee…

“Countless times during his career Evan will have covered the conditions inside the Lefortovo jail where he will spend the next two months in a cramped cell. Now I spend my days and nights wondering how he feels stuck inside. As the immediate media storm following his arrest passes, it will be of paramount importance to keep Evan in the spotlight and to push for his immediate release. For years, Evan did everything he could to tell the story of modern Russia. It is now our turn to keep the light shining on him.”
Pjotr Sauer, The Guardian

“Had the Russian president read Gershkovich’s reporting over the past year… [he might] have learned, thanks to Gershkovich’s solo reporting in Belarus in the earliest days of the war, that the war was not ‘going to plan,’ in contrast to what Russia’s defense minister kept telling him. He would have learned how utterly incompetent his war machine is, thanks to an inside account from a Russian paratrooper who participated in the invasion and later fled to France…

“These stories were written mainly for the benefit of readers in the West. But a wiser autocrat than Putin would have intuited that he might have avoided some costly miscalculations if only foreign media were allowed to operate freely and without fear in Russia. And while he probably wishes to trade Gershkovich (along with Paul Whelan and Marc Fogel, Russia’s other known American hostages) for some high-value Russian spies in the West, no prisoner swap would actually be worth more to him than the gift of accurate, reliable, unbiased information about real conditions in Russia.”
Bret Stephens, New York Times

“Russia has a rich history of imprisoning people on bogus charges for no purpose other than to help keep a dictator in power. At the peak of the Stalinist purges, when millions were swept into the Gulag, the secret police nevertheless insisted on giving a veneer of legality to the dragnet with formal charges, witnesses, mug shots and trials. As Nadezhda Mandelstam, wife of the great Russian poet Osip Mandelstam, recalled in her memoir, ‘We never asked, on hearing about the latest arrest, ‘What was he arrested for?’’ The official crime was never the real reason…

“In his drive to consolidate power, silence opposition and lash out at the West, Vladimir Putin has drawn on many of the techniques of the Soviet secret police in which he was reared… The Kremlin’s readiness to seize an accredited journalist as a hostage demonstrates again why the United States and its allies need to stand firm to block Mr. Putin’s designs on Ukraine. Ukraine has chosen to be part of a Europe that is stable, peaceful and governed according to rules and law. Mr. Putin would supplant that with fear and force.”
Editorial Board, New York Times

“Mr. Putin’s critics and opposition figures have regularly faced violence and death… [But this] is the first such arrest of an accredited Moscow correspondent for a U.S. news organization in Mr. Putin’s 23 years in power, and the first since the Cold War ended. U.S. correspondents working in Russia are accredited by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, meaning they have permission to practice basic journalism. They have often been harassed, threatened and surveilled, and must get a valid visa to work in Russia, but correspondents have not been summarily hauled off to jail and accused of espionage…  

“Mr. Gershkovich may have been taken because the FSB profited handsomely from the arrest of American basketball star Brittney Griner, who was later traded for the notorious Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout. Can it have been incidental that the arrest came after the Justice Department on Friday indicted an agent for the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence agency, who was being positioned to become a deep-cover spy in Washington? Mr. Gershkovich is not a pawn to be traded. Journalism is not a crime. He should be released immediately.”
Editorial Board, Washington Post

“There are prospective motivations for this arrest, but none of them have anything to do with actual spying. The notion that Gershkovich is a spy does not stand up to scrutiny… The Kremlin knows that the Wall Street Journal is regarded in the United States as the preeminent publication of the U.S. conservative elite, affecting the views and votes of members of Congress, for example. It does not want investigative reporting that underlines how dysfunctional Russia's war effort has truly become. It does not want that reporting because it wants the U.S. to pare back its aid for Ukraine…

“This arrest also likely evinces Putin's sense that he can escalate against U.S. interests in a way that earns U.S. concessions rather than new costs. He may well have been encouraged by the Biden administration's decision to order a retreat of U.S. drone flights in response to Russia's downing of one such flight. But Putin clearly also sought a valuable replacement for Brittney Griner in terms of future prisoner exchanges. Unfortunately, even as Putin's forces are being shredded in Ukraine, the U.S. has allowed him to believe he holds the strategic initiative.”
Tom Rogan, Washington Examiner

“The last time he faced this situation, Biden swapped the world’s most notorious arms dealer — Viktor Bout, the ‘Merchant of Death’ — for Griner. No doubt the pressure on Biden to cut a deal for Gerhskovich will be even higher, especially from the media. But swapping Gershkovich for actual spies will get played in Russia as a confirmation of the charges against him and will add to Putin’s use of the US as his propaganda bete noire

“Biden should order the FBI to round up some or all known Russian intelligence operators in the US and expel them immediately, too. The FBI likes to collect intel rather than arrest such spies in order to gain more knowledge of their organization, and they may not have good cases to present in open court for espionage trials, but they can certainly get non-US citizens declared persona non grata. And when that doesn’t work, Biden can order all Russian financial institutions excluded from the SWIFT banking system… Putin isn’t playing around, and neither should we.”
Ed Morrissey, Hot Air

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