- An American Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich was arrested in Russia on Thursday.
- Gershkovich is being held on charges of espionage for his reporting about the invasion of Ukraine.
- He is the first American reporter detained by Russia for spying since the Cold War.
Evan Gershkovich, the Wall Street Journal reporter arrested Thursday in Russia on espionage charges, is the first American journalist to be detained and accused of spying by the country since the Cold War.
Gershkovich, a New York-born journalist based in Moscow, was detained in Yekaterinburg, a city in the Ural mountains. The Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) accused him of “trying to obtain secret information” according to a statement published in the state-sponsored media outlet RIA Novosti, saying Gershkovich was acting “on the instructions of the United States.”
Though the US has not officially designated Gershkovich as unlawfully detained, the Biden administration has issued a statement condemning Russia’s arrest of the reporter and The Guardian reported White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre called the espionage charges “ridiculous” and “unacceptable.”
The Wall Street Journal has not been in contact with Gershkovich since his arrest, but the outlet vehemently denies that he was doing anything other than reporting while in Russia. On Saturday, NBC reported that Gershkovich had been investigating the private military company called the Wagner Group and a tank factory in Yekaterinburg.
“The Wall Street Journal demands the immediate release of our colleague, Evan Gershkovich, a distinguished journalist who was arrested while reporting in Russia,” the news outlet said in a Saturday statement, which was emailed to Insider. “We know what’s going on in the world because of the fearless reporting of journalists like Evan. Evan’s case is a vicious affront to a free press, and should spur outrage in all free people and governments throughout the world. No reporter should ever be detained for simply doing their job.”
PHOTOS: Inside the front-line trenches around a destroyed town where Ukraine is fighting the war’s longest and bloodiest battle
Trenches are not a revolutionary aspect of land warfare — they are part of a tactic that’s been used in many conflicts going back in history, though perhaps they are most well-known for their role during World War I.
As a grinding war of attrition that features trenches, constant artillery barrages, incremental gains, human wave attacks, and extremely heavy casualties, the fighting in Ukraine has often drawn comparisons to the First World War.
Ukraine’s battlefields, however, have modern touches like the use of advanced drones that buzz overhead.
Fighting in trenches can be “brutal,” Billy Fabian, a senior fellow in the defense program at the Center for New American Security and former infantry officer in the US Army, told Insider.
Trenches are a “survival tactic” and are constructed to protect front-line troops from machine guns and accurate artillery, rather than leave them exposed to this modern firepower out in the open, Fabian added.
“Trench warfare often emerges because of a combination of a relatively static battlefield, where forces are in the same place for a long time, so they have the time to dig these elaborate fortifications,” Fabian said.
Fabian said trenches involve the constant threat of artillery, a major attack, or a raid, and soldiers often endure really rough conditions.
Conditions in the trenches can really deteriorate, Fabian said. “People living in these narrow trenches for weeks and months on end — they get dirty.”
Trenches can also be cold and fill up with water when it rains, leading to disease and other health issues like trench foot, a common ailment in World War I.
“The living conditions are very harsh and unhealthy,” Gaelle Girbes, the French photographer, told Insider previously of life in Ukrainian trenches as the country fought Russian-backed separatists in the east prior to the invasion. Life “is really hard,” she added, saying it takes a mental toll on the troops. Given the intensity of the battle for Bakhmut and the strains on the armed forces, the situation now may be far worse.
Fabian said fighting between Ukraine and Russia around Bakhmut — where both sides make use of trenches — comes at a “very high cost,” echoing what officials and military leaders have said about the costly battle.
Both sides, Russian forces, including Wagner mercenaries, and Ukrainian soldiers, are continuing to push troops to the front, pushing them into a bloody fight for a town gaining significance despite its limited strategic value. So far, here don’t seem to be any major breakthroughs, where massive sections of the front are collapsing, Fabian said.
Fabian described combat as slow and grinding, with “positional warfare” that features “attritional ebb and flow.”
When there’s attritional warfare on the battlefield, Fabian says the equation boils down to who gets exhausted first.
“Does the attacker reach a culmination because they just don’t have enough combat power anymore to gain anything?” Fabian asked. “Or does the defender no longer have enough people to sort of plug the breach?”
The last time an American journalist was arrested on spying charges in Russia was in 1986, when Nicholas D. Daniloff a reporter for US News and World Report newspaper and magazine, was accused by the Soviet Union’s KGB agency of espionage, five years before the end of the Cold War.
Daniloff spent weeks in a Russian prison while the Reagan administration negotiated his release, CNN reported.
“In my case, the FBI had arrested a Soviet in New York for espionage, and the Russians then arrested me,” Daniloff told CNN, adding that the negotiation that eventually secured his release also included a “solution for the guy who was arrested in New York.”
The White House has not indicated whether negotiations have begun to secure Gershkovich’s release, but a Thursday statement from the Biden administration indicated officials are “in direct touch with the Russian government on this matter, including actively working to secure consular access to Mr. Gershkovich.”
“The targeting of American citizens by the Russian government is unacceptable. We condemn the detention of Mr. Gershkovich in the strongest terms,” Jean-Pierre said in the statement. “We also condemn the Russian government’s continued targeting and repression of journalists and freedom of the press.”
The Biden administration recently negotiated the release of WNBA star Brittney Griner, who had been sentenced to nine years in a penal colony for possession of hash oil, in exchange for a notorious Russian arms dealer, Viktor Bout. Other Americans, including the former Marine Paul Whelan jailed since 2018, remain in Russian custody.
Emma Tucker, editor-in-chief of The Wall Street Journal, told CNN’s Anderson Cooper on Friday that US State Department officials are working with the outlet to find a way to get Gershkovich released from Russian custody.
“We’re very optimistic that the US government will designate him — they’re moving quickly towards designating him as unlawfully detained,” Tucker told Cooper. “When that happens, that’s an official recognition that the charges against him are bogus. And then after that things, we hope, could move a bit more swiftly.”