Jailed US reporter Evan Gershkovich to face trial in Russia over espionage charges

Gershkovich was detained while on a reporting trip to Yekaterinburg in March 2023 and accused of spying for the United States. He faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.
Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich stands in a glass cage in a courtroom at the First Appeals Court of General Jurisdiction in Moscow, Russia, April 23, 2024.
Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich stands in a glass cage in a courtroom at the First Appeals Court of General Jurisdiction in Moscow, Russia, April 23, 2024.FILE Photo | AP

MOSCOW: US journalist Evan Gershkovich, who has been jailed for over a year in Russia on espionage charges, will stand trial in the Ural Mountains city of Yekaterinburg, authorities said Thursday.

An indictment of the Wall Street Journal reporter has been finalised, and his case was filed with the Sverdlovsky Regional Court in the city about 1,400 kilometres (870 miles) east of Moscow, according to Russia's Prosecutor General's office.

Gershkovich is accused of "gathering secret information" for the CIA about Uralvagonzavod, a facility in the Sverdlovsk region that produces and repairs military equipment, the Prosecutor General's office said in a statement, revealing for the first time the details of the accusations against him.

The officials didn't provide any evidence to back up the accusations. There was no word on when the trial would begin.

Gershkovich was detained while on a reporting trip to Yekaterinburg in March 2023 and accused of spying for the United States. The reporter, his employer and the US government denied the allegations, and Washington designated him as wrongfully detained.

The Federal Security Service, or FSB, alleged at the time he was acting on US orders to collect state secrets but also provided no evidence.

President Vladimir Putin has said he believed a deal could be reached to free Gershkovich, hinting he would be open to swapping him for a Russian national imprisoned in Germany, which appeared to be Vadim Krasikov. He was serving a life sentence for the 2019 killing in Berlin of a Georgian citizen of Chechen descent.

Asked last week by The Associated Press about Gershkovich, Putin said the US is "taking energetic steps" to secure his release. He said any such releases "aren't decided via mass media" but through a "discreet, calm and professional approach."

"And they certainly should be decided only on the basis of reciprocity," he added in an allusion to a potential prisoner swap.

Gershkovich faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

He was the first US journalist taken into custody on espionage charges since Nicholas Daniloff in 1986, at the height of the Cold War.

Gershkovich's arrest shocked foreign journalists in Russia, even though the country had enacted increasingly repressive laws on freedom of speech after sending troops into Ukraine.

The son of Soviet emigres who settled in New Jersey, Gershkovich was fluent in Russian and moved to the country in 2017 to work for The Moscow Times newspaper before being hired by the Journal in 2022.

Since his arrest, Gershkovich has been held at Moscow's Lefortovo Prison, a notorious czarist-era prison used during Josef Stalin's purges, when executions were carried out in its basement.

The Biden administration has sought to negotiate his release, but Russia's Foreign Ministry said it would consider a prisoner swap only after a verdict in his trial.

US Ambassador Lynne Tracy, who regularly visited Gershkovich in prison and attended his court hearings, has called the charges against him "fiction" and said that Russia is "using American citizens as pawns to achieve political ends."

Since sending troops to Ukraine, Russian authorities have detained several US nationals and other Westerners, seemingly bolstering that idea.

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