Wall Street Journal Calls to Expel Russian Ambassador over Journalist’s Arrest

March 31, 2023

Evan Gershkovich is under arrest in Russia

The Editorial Board of the Wall Street Journal Thursday evening called on the U.S. government to expel Russia’s ambassador following the arrest in Russia of one of the paper’s journalists.

“Thuggish leaders keep doing thuggish things if they think they will pay no price,” the Journal’s Editorial Board wrote.

Authorities in Russia arrested Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich this week on charges of espionage, which carry a potential 20-year prison term in that country. A district court in Moscow said Thursday that Gershkovich would be detained until May 29.

“The Biden Administration will have to consider diplomatic and political escalation,” the Journal editorial continued. “Expelling Russia’s ambassador to the U.S., as well as all Russian journalists working here, would be the minimum to expect.”

Thursday afternoon, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre condemned the American’s arrest and called the espionage charges against Gershkovich—who is accredited to work in Russia as a journalist by the Russian Foreign Ministry—”ridiculous.”

“The targeting of American citizens by the Russian government is unacceptable,” Jean-Pierre went on. “We condemn the detention of Mr. Gershkovich in the strongest terms. We also condemn the Russian government’s continued targeting and repression of journalists.”

The Journal’s Editorial Board questioned the timing of Gershkovich’s arrest, saying it “looks like a calculated provocation to embarrass the U.S. and intimidate the foreign press still working in Russia.”

The Board also criticized the Biden Administration for not negotiating the release of American Paul Whelan last year when it swapped arrested WNBA star Brittney Griner for Russian Viktor Bout, who was serving a 25-year sentence in the U.S. for conspiring to kill Americans and selling weapons to a terrorist group. 

Whelan is serving a 16-year sentence in a penal colony in the Russian region of Mordovia. He was arrested in 2018 on what his family says are fabricated charges of spying. 

Earlier this month, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in his first encounter with his Russian counterpart since that country’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, urged Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to accept a proposal for Whelan’s release.

“The U.S. government’s first duty is to protect its citizens, and too many governments now believe they can arrest and imprison Americans with impunity,” the Journal’s Board asserted. 

The arrest of Gershkovich is the first time an American journalist has been detained by the Kremlin on spying accusations since the Cold War. It comes a week after U.S. authorities announced charges against a Russian national, Sergey Vladimirovich Cherkasov, accusing him of being a Russian spy.

Russian officials have not commented on speculation that Gershkovich’s arrest was a retaliatory move related to Cherkasov, who is currently incarcerated in Brazil on fraud charges, according to the DOJ.

When asked about the government’s negotiations to secure Gershkovich’s release on Thursday, Jean-Pierre replied, “Due to privacy concerns we don’t have much more to share at this time. We want to be very mindful of the this.”

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