Gershkovich has lived in Moscow for the past six years as a reporter for the Wall Street Journal, focusing his coverage on Russia, Ukraine and the former Soviet Union. He is accredited as a journalist by the Russian Foreign Ministry, the Wall Street Journal reported. His last articlepublished on Tuesday, focused on the possible future decline of the Russian economy.
Gershkovich’s arrest comes at a time when the Kremlin is cracking down on dissent and criticism during its ongoing war in Ukraine, which the international community has sentenced. In September 2022, the Russian police stopped 1,300 people at anti-war protests after President Vladimir Putin announced that citizens would be mobilized for the fight against Ukraine. More recently, a Russian father was sentenced to two years in prison after his 13-year-old daughter made pro-Ukrainian art with the slogan “Glory to Ukraine”.
Russia is also cracking down on the media. After Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, Putin signed a law making a crime for reporting “fake” news about the war with Ukraine – including simply calling it a war – leading to numerous international organizations to suspend country report.
Outlets that remained did so under censorship, with restricted language and penalties for contradicting the government. According to Reporters Without Borders, journalists were also attacked while reporting from inside Ukraine, and eight were killed in the first six months of the war.
Russian authorities have already made high-profile arrests of American citizens, often on exaggerated or spurious grounds. On February 17, 2022, shortly before Russia invaded Ukraine, Russian authorities arrested WNBA player Brittney Griner after she sprayed cartridges with a small amount of hash oil were found in his luggage. Griner later pleaded guilty to drug charges and was sentenced at nine years old in a Russian penal colony. The case was widely seen as a political movement to exert pressure on the United States, which had promised aid to Ukraine. Griner was later freed in a prisoner exchange with Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.
Gershkovich is the first journalist in more than 30 years to be detained in Russia on espionage charges. In 1986, Nicholas Daniloff, a reporter for US News & World Report, was arrested by the KGB while serving as a correspondent in Moscow and released 20 days later in a prisoner exchange for a Russian government employee who had been arrested by the FBI.