President Joseph Biden of the United States demanded on Friday that Russia free Wall Street Journal writer Evan Gershkovich, who is detained on espionage accusations, while rejecting a request from the paper’s editorial board to remove Russian journalists from the US.
Biden responded, “Let him go,” when asked by White House reporters what his message to Russia was regarding US citizen Gershkovich.
In an editorial that appeared in The Journal on Thursday afternoon, the board of opinion editors demanded that Anatoly Antonov, the Russian ambassador to the US, and “all Russian journalists working here” be expelled, calling the action “the minimum to expect.”
“The timing of the arrest looks like a premeditated provocation to embarrass the US and terrify the foreign journalists still active in Russia,” the statement read.
We will continue to do all in our power to achieve Evan’s release, editor-in-chief Emma Tucker wrote in a statement to the newspaper’s staff on Friday.
The arrest of Gershkovich, who is thought to be the first foreign journalist detained for espionage in post-Soviet Russia, is anticipated to heighten tensions between the Kremlin and the West during Moscow’s conflict with Ukraine.
In response to the editorial board’s call that all Russian journalists be removed, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov remarked “The publication has the right to say it, but it shouldn’t. Just no justification exists for this.”
Gershkovich, he claimed, had been “caught red-handed.”
At a court hearing in the nation’s capital Moscow, Gershkovich reportedly refuted the accusations against him, according to the Russian state news agency TASS. He was held in detention pending trial until May 29.
The only information available is that Russia’s security services announced on an unspecified date that they had “foiled an illegal activity” by arresting Gershkovich in the city of Yekaterinburg, about 1,100 miles (1,800 kilometers) east of Moscow.
The detention of the 31-year-old journalist on charges that carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison is a serious escalation of Moscow’s sweeping crackdown on the media.
The White House condemned the arrest and advised Americans not to travel to Russia, while also advising those who are already there to leave for their own safety.
“The Russian government’s targeting of American citizens is unethical. We strongly oppose Mr. Gershkovich’s detention “Karine Jean-Pierre, White House Press Secretary, said in a statement.
US officials stated that they had contacted Gershkovich’s family as well as the newspaper, and that the State Department had contacted Russia.
Several other US citizens are imprisoned, including former Marine Paul Whelan, who was arrested in 2018 and sentenced to 16 years in prison on espionage charges that he denies.