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Date set for trial of US reporter charged with espionage in Russia

Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich stands in a glass cage in a courtroom at the First Appeals Court of General Jurisdiction in Moscow, Russia in April (Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP)
Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich stands in a glass cage in a courtroom at the First Appeals Court of General Jurisdiction in Moscow, Russia in April (Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP)

The espionage trial in Russia of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich will begin on June 26 and will be held behind closed doors, a statement from the court that will hear the case has said.

Gershkovich, a US citizen, has been behind bars since his March 2023 arrest and faces 20 years in prison if convicted.

The trial is to be held in the Sverdlovsky Regional Court in Yekaterinburg, Russia’s fourth-largest city, where he was arrested.

Gershkovich has since been held in Moscow’s Lefortovo prison, around 1,400 kilometres (870 miles) to the west.

The court said trial will be closed to the public, as is usual in espionage cases.

Gershkovich, 32, is accused of “gathering secret information” on orders from the CIA about Uralvagonzavod, a facility that produces and repairs military equipment, the Prosecutor General’s office said last week in the first details of the accusations against him.

The reporter, his employer and the US government have denied the allegations, and Washington designated him as wrongfully detained.

Russia’s Federal Security Service alleged that Gershkovich was acting on US orders to collect state secrets but provided no evidence to back up the accusations.

“Evan has done nothing wrong. He should never have been arrested in the first place. Journalism is not a crime,” US State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said last week.

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks to employees as he visits the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research in Dubna, 116 km (72,5 miles) north of Moscow, Russia
Putin has said he believes a deal could be reached to free Gershkovich, hinting he would be open to a prisoner swap (Mikhail Metzel/AP)

“The charges against him are false. And the Russian government knows that they’re false. He should be released immediately.”

The Biden administration has sought to negotiate Gershkovich’s release, but Russia’s Foreign Ministry said Moscow would consider a prisoner swap only after a trial verdict.

Putin has said he believes a deal could be reached to free Gershkovich, hinting he would be open to swapping him for a Russian national imprisoned in Germany.

That appeared to be Vadim Krasikov, who is serving a life sentence for the 2019 killing of a Georgian citizen of Chechen descent in Berlin.

Asked by the Associated Press about Gershkovich, Putin said the US is “taking energetic steps” to secure his release.

He told international news agencies at an economic forum in St Petersburg in early June that any such releases “aren’t decided via mass media” but through a “discreet, calm and professional approach”.

Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, left, stands in a glass cage in a courtroom at the First Appeals Court of General Jurisdiction in Moscow, Russia
Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, left, stands in a glass cage in a courtroom at the First Appeals Court of General Jurisdiction in Moscow, Russia (Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP)

“And they certainly should be decided only on the basis of reciprocity,” he added, in an allusion to a potential prisoner swap.

Gershkovich was the first US journalist taken into custody on espionage charges since Nicholas Daniloff in 1986 at the height of the Cold War.

Gershkovich’s arrest shocked foreign journalists in Russia, even though the country had enacted increasingly repressive laws on freedom of speech after sending troops into Ukraine.

The son of Soviet emigres who settled in New Jersey, Gershkovich is fluent in Russian and moved to the country in 2017 to work for The Moscow Times newspaper before being hired by the Journal in 2022.

US ambassador Lynne Tracy, who regularly visited Gershkovich in prison and attended his court hearings, has called the charges against him “fiction” and said that Russia is “using American citizens as pawns to achieve political ends”.