Russian Prosecutors Finalize Indictment of Evan Gershkovich

Russian Prosecutors Finalize Indictment of Evan Gershkovich

Russian prosecutors announced a major step on Thursday in their case against Evan Gershkovich, the imprisoned American journalist, saying they had finalized the espionage indictment against him and that he would be tried in the Russian city of Yekaterinburg, where he was arrested more than a year ago.

Mr. Gershkovich, 32, should get transferred from the notorious high-security Lefortovo prison in Moscow to stand trial in the city, which is about 880 miles east of the Russian capital, said Yevgeny Smirnov, a Russian lawyer who has worked on similar cases.

When such espionage cases go to trial in Russia, they usually take about four months but can take up to a year, and they are typically closed to the news media, Mr. Smirnov said in a phone interview. If convicted, Mr. Gershkovich, a reporter for The Wall Street Journal, faces up to 20 years in prison.

Mr. Gershkovich, his employer and the United States government have denied the charge against him. The U.S. government has designated Mr. Gershkovich as “wrongfully detained,” which effectively means that it considers him a political prisoner.

The Russian authorities have suggested in the past that they could be open to a prisoner swap for Mr. Gershkovich, but only after a verdict is handed down in his case.

Speaking last week at a meeting with representatives of international news agencies, President Vladimir V. Putin said that Russian and American intelligence agencies were “in touch on this issue.”

“They absolutely have to be resolved on the basis of reciprocity,” Mr. Putin said, referring to any potential prisoner swap involving Mr. Gershkovich.

The detention of Mr. Gershkovich, the first American journalist arrested on a spying charge since the end of the Cold War, highlighted the extent to which Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has damaged relations between Moscow and Washington.

In a statement, prosecutors said they had determined that “under instructions from the C.I.A.” and “using painstaking conspiratorial methods,” Mr. Gershkovich “was collecting secret information” about a factory that produces tanks and other weapons in the Sverdlovsk region.

The prosecutors’ statement marked the first time that Russian state representatives revealed details of the accusations against Mr. Gershkovich. The statement did not present any evidence to back up the accusations.

The Wall Street Journal issued a statement on Thursday predicting a “sham trial.”

“Evan Gershkovich is facing a false and baseless charge,” the statement said. “Russia’s latest move toward a sham trial is, while expected, deeply disappointing and still no less outrageous. Evan has spent 441 days wrongfully detained in a Russian prison for simply doing his job.”

“The Russian regime’s smearing of Evan is repugnant, disgusting and based on calculated and transparent lies,” the statement added.

According to Mr. Smirnov, Russian security services determine what constitutes classified material and what doesn’t in such cases. The defense has no way to challenge their assertions, he said.

“We understand clearly that he is in prison to get exchanged,” Mr. Smirnov said in reference to Mr. Gershkovich. He added that depending on secret talks on any possible prisoner exchange, the trial could be expedited to reach a verdict sooner.

Mr. Gershkovich is one of several American nationals who have been detained in Russia in recent years, and his case has raised fears that the Kremlin is seeking to use U.S. citizens as bargaining chips to be exchanged for Russians held in the West.

Others include Paul Whelan, a former U.S. Marine, and Alsu Kurmasheva, an editor working for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Last week a Russian court sentenced Yuri Malev, a Russian American national, to three and a half years in a penal colony after he had criticized Russia, its leadership and its war in Ukraine on social media.

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