The Wall Street Journal editorial board has called for Russia’s ambassador to the United States to be expelled, following the arrest of one of the newspaper’s reporters in Russia on espionage charges.
“Expelling Russia’s ambassador to the US, as well as all Russian journalists working here, would be the minimum to expect,” the board of opinion editors said in a piece published Thursday.
“The timing of the arrest looks like a calculated provocation to embarrass the US and intimidate the foreign press still working in Russia,” it added.
Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich was detained in Yekaterinburg, around 1,100 miles (1,800 kilometers) east of Moscow, and is being held in detention in Moscow until May 29 pending trial.
He is believed to be the first foreign journalist held for spying in post-Soviet Russia, and his arrest is expected to escalate the Kremlin’s confrontation with the West amid Moscow’s war in Ukraine.
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov, responding to the editorial board’s demand that all Russian journalists be expelled, said “the newspaper can say that, but it should not happen. There’s just no reason for this.”
He said that Gershkovich had been caught “red handed.”
The 31-year-old journalist’s detention, on charges that carry a maximum penalty of 20 years behind bars, is also a serious escalation of Moscow’s sweeping crackdown on the media.
The White House condemned the arrest and warned Americans not to travel to Russia, while also advising those now inside the country to leave for their own safety.
“The targeting of American citizens by the Russian government is unacceptable. We condemn the detention of Mr. Gershkovich in the strongest terms,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a statement.
A spokesman for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also expressed concern about the harassment of journalists.