Russia Sets Closed Espionage Trial for US Reporter Gershkovich

By Reuters
June 17, 2024Europe
Russia Sets Closed Espionage Trial for US Reporter Gershkovich
US journalist Evan Gershkovich gives a thumb up inside a defendants' cage after a hearing to consider an appeal on his extended pre-trial detention, at the The first court of appeal in Moscow on April 23, 2024. (Natalia Kolesnikova/AFP via Getty Images)

MOSCOW—Russia’s espionage trial of detained Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, who denies charges of collecting secrets for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), will be held behind closed doors, the trial court said on Monday.

Mr. Gershkovich, 32, was detained by the Federal Security Service (FSB) on March 29, 2023, in a steak house in the Urals city of Yekaterinburg, 1,400 km (900 miles) east of Moscow, on charges of espionage that carry up to 20 years in prison.

The first American journalist to be detained on spy charges in Russia since the Cold War more than three decades ago, Mr. Gershkovich has repeatedly denied the charges. The Journal says that Mr. Gershkovich was doing his job and denied he was a spy.

The FSB, the main successor to the Soviet-era KGB, said that Mr. Gershkovich was trying to collect secrets about Uralvagonzavod, a powerful Russian defense enterprise which is one of the world’s biggest battle tank producers, for the CIA.

“The process will take place behind closed doors,” the Sverdlovsk Regional Court in Yekaterinburg said.

“According to the investigation authorities, the American journalist of The Wall Street Journal, Gershkovich, on the instructions of the CIA, in March 2023, collected secret information in the Sverdlovsk region about the activities of the defense enterprise JSC NPK Uralvagonzavod for the production and repair of military equipment,” it said.

The first hearing is scheduled for June 26, the court said.

Russia said Mr. Gershkovich was caught “red-handed.” President Vladimir Putin has said there has been contact with Washington about potentially swapping Mr. Gershkovich but that such negotiations should be held away from the media.

The Journal said that Mr. Gershkovich was on a reporting assignment when detained.

Both the Journal, which did not immediately reply to a request for comment out of normal U.S. business hours, and Dow Jones have repeatedly demanded that Russia release him, thus far to no avail.

The arrest of  Mr. Gershkovich illustrated just how far relations between Russia and the West have deteriorated over the Ukraine war since the hopes of friendship ushered in when the Cold War ended with the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991.

Among the detained Americans is Paul Whelan, an ex-Marine arrested in Moscow in 2018 and sentenced to 16 years in prison on spying charges in 2020.

Mr. Putin suggested in February that Mr. Gershkovich could be swapped.

In March, Mr. Putin said he had agreed with the idea of potentially swapping Alexei Navalny a few days before the opposition leader died at a Russian prison in the Arctic on Feb. 16.

A fluent Russian speaker born to Soviet émigrés and raised in New Jersey, Mr. Gershkovich moved to Moscow in late 2017 to join the English-language Moscow Times, and subsequently worked for the French news agency Agence France-Presse.