WASHINGTON – The United States on Thursday condemned Russia’s detention of an American journalist who wrote for the Wall Street Journal and said it was seeking consular access.
US officials said they were in contact with the family of detained journalist Evan Gershkovich as well as the newspaper and that the State Department had contacted Russia.
“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.
“I want to strongly reiterate that Americans should heed the US government’s warning not to travel to Russia. US citizens living or traveling in Russia should leave immediately.
Responding to the accusation that the journalist was spying, Jean-Pierre later told reporters, “The accusation of espionage is very strange.”
US President Joe Biden has been informed of the detention, the White House said.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken linked the detention to a crackdown on the media in Russia, whose relations with Washington have soured since the invasion of Ukraine.
“In the strongest possible terms, we condemn the Kremlin’s ongoing efforts to intimidate, ban and punish journalists and civil society voices,” Blinken said.
Gershkovich is believed to be the first foreign journalist to be detained on suspicion of espionage in post-Soviet Russia.
He is the son of Soviet Jewish immigrants, the New York Post reported.
White House national security spokesman John Kirby said he understood that journalists must take risks and do so knowingly.
“We appreciate that, but it doesn’t change our deep concern about the presence of Americans” still in Russia, Kirby told reporters.
Several other US citizens are in prison including Paul Whelan, a former Marine, who was arrested in 2018 and sentenced to 16 years on espionage charges he denies.
“This is not a new tactic for Mr. Putin and Russian officials to detain foreigners and particular Americans,” Kirby said.
“It’s certainly not new for Mr. Putin to push back against an independent independent press,” he said.
Whelan’s brother expressed grief over Gershkovich’s detention and called on the Biden administration to prioritize the release of detained Americans.
“Whatever it takes, I hope that the US government will move quickly and decisively so that Paul and Mr. Gershkovich can soon return to their families and loved ones,” David Whelan said in a statement.
Russia and the United States, despite high tensions, have recently conducted prisoner swaps including one that led to the release of US basketball star Brittney Griner.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report