Journalist’s Arrest in Russia Comes After Spy Rings Exposed Internationally

Journalist's Arrest in Russia Comes After Spy Rings Exposed Internationally

( – Russian security forces recently arrested another American citizen. Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich is being held on espionage charges. It’s possible Russia just wants to use him as a bargaining chip to get its own spies back.

On March 29, Gershkovich was arrested by Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) in the industrial city of Yekaterinburg. He’s now being held in Moscow’s Lefortovo Prison on charges of “espionage in the interests of the American government” — charges which the Wall Street Journal vehemently denies.

It seems Gershkovich was investigating the Wagner mercenary group, which has been active in the Ukraine war, and also possibly the Uralvagonzavod tank factory, which manufactures Russia’s current T-90 main battle tank. These are certainly things an intelligence officer would be interested in — but they’re also things in which a journalist would be interested.

Does Russia really believe Gershkovich, who’s been in the country for over six years, is a spy? It’s unlikely. On the other hand, the Biden administration has already shown it’s willing to exchange prisoners on terms favorable to Russia. Last December, notorious arms dealer Viktor Bout was released in exchange for basketball player Brittney Griner. Could Gershkovich have been detained because Russia wants someone back from the US?

In the summer of 2022, Brazil arrested Sergey Cherkasov, a Russian intelligence officer who created a fake identity as Brazilian student Viktor Muller Ferreira. Using this alias, he studied international relations at Johns Hopkins University before trying to get a US government job. Now the Justice Department is trying to extradite him from Brazil — but Russia wants him back. If Biden was willing to trade a valuable captive like Bout for a minor athlete who was clearly guilty, would he also exchange Cherkasov for a respected journalist?

Since Russia invaded Ukraine last February, hundreds of Russian agents have been expelled or arrested by Western countries. Putin could be hoping Biden will pressure our allies to release some of those agents in exchange for Gershkovich. Right now, the West is holding a lot of people Putin wants back, and any Westerner still in Russia is now in play as a potential hostage.

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