Chris Lange, FISM News
Russia’s detainment of an American journalist has strained already tense relations between Washington and Moscow. As it stands now, virtually all communication between the two nuclear powers has been shut down.
Russia’s Federal Security Service said Thursday that it had detained The Wall Street Journal’s Moscow Bureau reporter Evan Gershkovich in the city of Yekaterinburg. He was accused of spying on behalf of the U.S. government.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters Thursday that President Joe Biden had been briefed on the arrest, calling the charges against Gershkovich “ridiculous.” She added that senior White House and State Department officials had been in contact with the Wall Street Journal and Gershkovich’s family.
“The targeting of American citizens by the Russian government is unacceptable,” she said. “We condemn the detention of Mr. Gershkovich in the strongest — in the strongest terms. We also condemn the Russian government’s continued targeting and repression of journalists.”
Jean-Pierre said that the U.S. embassy in Moscow “has engaged the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs on this matter” and is “seeking consular access.” She also reiterated the U.S. government’s travel advisory concerning Russia and urged American citizens living in or traveling to the country to “depart immediately.”
“In the strongest possible terms, we condemn the Kremlin’s continued attempts to intimidate, repress, and punish journalists and civil society voices,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said.
WALL STREET JOURNAL DEFENDS REPORTER, SEEKS ‘IMMEDIATE RELEASE’
The Wall Street Journal on Thursday condemned the arrest of a reporter from the paper’s Moscow Bureau on charges of espionage.
“The Wall Street Journal vehemently denies the allegations from the FSB and seeks the immediate release of our trusted and dedicated reporter, Evan Gershkovich. We stand in solidarity with Evan and his family,” The Journal’s Senior Communications Manager Caitlyn Reuss said in a statement.
A Russian court ordered WSJ reporter Evan Gershkovich detained until May 29 for what it described as espionage. The Journal denies the allegations against him. https://t.co/XAwBjKYp5U
— The Wall Street Journal (@WSJ) March 30, 2023
The FSB confirmed that Gershkovich was accredited to work as a journalist in Russia by the country’s foreign ministry.
Former U.S. Ambassador to Russia John J. Sullivan told the Journal that the fact that Gershkovich was charged with spying, as opposed to a common criminal offense, suggests that the Kremlin plans to use him as a political pawn for a future prisoner swap with the U.S.
“This is not an arrest that the local police or FSB would do on their own,” Sullivan said, adding that the charge of espionage is a “big development” and “a very bad sign.”
While Moscow has a history of arresting Americans on espionage charges, the detainment of a journalist is highly unusual. Gershkovich’s arrest marks the first such arrest since the height of the Cold War.
TURKEY APPROVES FINLAND’S NATO BID AS SWEDEN REMAINS IN LIMBO
Finland can breathe a sigh of relief now that it has cleared the final hurdle in its NATO accession with the long-awaited approval from holdout Turkey.
The Turkish parliament signed off on its required formal approval of the Finnish bid Thursday, per Reuters. Hungary passed a similar measure earlier this week.
The fate of Sweden, however, remains uncertain.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan previously held up the Swedish and Finnish bids over the nations’ alleged harboring of Kurdish militant groups and arms embargoes. Ongoing talks between Ankara and Helsinki apparently mollified Erdoğan’s concerns, but the Turkish leader seems unwilling to budge on his opposition to Sweden’s accession. Erdoğan expressed outrage over anti-Muslim protests that took place near the Turkish embassy in Stockholm in January where demonstrators burned a copy of the Quran.
Both historically nonaligned nations sought membership in the international military alliance after Russia invaded Ukraine. Russian President Vladimir Putin cited the threat of NATO expansion along its borders as the chief reason for the invasion.
US SANCTIONS SLOVAKIAN MAN WHO ATTEMPTED SALE OF NORTH KOREAN ARMS TO RUSSIA
The U.S. Treasury Department announced Thursday that it had imposed sanctions on a Slovakian national who allegedly attempted to broker the sale of North Korean weapons and munitions to Russia.
Ashot Mkrtychev is the man accused of trying to facilitate the covert deal that U.S. officials said is the latest indication that Moscow is looking for ways to bolster its military capabilities as it continues to sustain losses in Ukraine.
In a call with reporters, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said, “We know that between the end of 2022 and early 2023, [Mkrtychev] worked with North Korean officials to attempt to obtain, as I said, over two dozen kinds of weapons and ammunition for Russia.” Any such arrangement, according to Kirby, would be in direct violation of several Security Council resolutions.
SIX RUSSIAN MISSILES STRIKE KHARKIV
The eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv was struck by at least six Russian missiles late on Thursday night. Regional governor Oleh Sinegubov said Friday that officials are gathering information about the damage and casualties.
Russia has been firing drones and missiles at a variety of Ukrainian targets for months as it seeks to destroy critical infrastructure.
“The enemy is attacking Kharkiv again. At least 6 ‘arrivals’ have been recorded,” Sinegubov wrote on the Telegram messaging app.