This morning, news broke that Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, a U.S. citizen, was arrested in the Russian city of Yekaterinburg. According to local reports, the F.S.B. walked into a cafe where Gershkovich was sitting, arrested him, and led him out with his jacket over his head. He was then transported to Moscow, where, in a closed court proceeding, he was charged with espionage and remanded to the notorious Lefortovo prison for the next two months. The charges carry up to 20 years in a penal colony, which is especially horrifying in this case: Gershkovich is quite young, just 31 years old.
There is something uniquely stomach-turning about Gershkovich’s arrest, and many aspects of it stick out to me. For one thing, he was out in the Russian provinces, reporting on Wagner, the private military company run by the cartoonishly cruel Evgeny Prigozhin, who has been connected to the deaths and poisonings of several Russian journalists. Even before the war, covering Wagner was a uniquely dangerous proposition in Russia: it was a shadowy organization that Prigozhin religiously lied about owning. Now, despite the fact that Wagner has come out into the open, it seems the danger of reporting on them has not abated. In fact, shortly after news broke of Gershkovich’s arrest, Prigozhin commented that he didn’t know where Gershkovich was but that he would happily search for him in Wagner’s torture chambers and some “fresh graves.”
On top of that—and this is in no way to fault him for doing his job; the arrest is clearly unjustified and horrendous—it seems Gershkovih went to Nizhny Tagil, a famous factory town where Russian tanks are made. I’ve been there, as have many others, but now, with the war going on, the F.S.B. clearly decided to make use of the visit to sew together their false charges of spying. Why else would a citizen of the U.S., which Vladimir Putin considers his actual adversary in this war, be snooping around a tank factory?