Evan Gershkovich was detained in the Ural Mountains city of Yekaterinburg on suspicion of “espionage in the interests of the American government,” the Federal Security Service (FSB) said in a statement, which was reported by state media.
The FSB accused Gershkovich of collecting “information constituting a state secret about the activities of one of the enterprises of the Russian military-industrial complex.”
It provided no evidence or further details on when Gershkovich was arrested. If convicted, he could face up to 20 years in prison.
The Wall Street Journal said in a statement that it “vehemently denies the allegations from the FSB and seeks the immediate release of our trusted and dedicated reporter.” It added: “We stand in solidarity with Evan and his family.”
Gershkovich is a journalist covering Russia, Ukraine and the former Soviet Union.
He was previously a reporter for Agence France-Presse and the Moscow Times and a news assistant at the New York Times, according to his author page on The Wall Street Journal’s website.
Gershkovich, 31, speaks Russian. His parents live in the United States but are originally from the former Soviet Union.
His most recent article, which was published earlier this week and co-bylined, featured the headline: “Russia’s Economy Is Starting to Come Undone.”
Gershkovich is the first journalist with an American outlet to be arrested on espionage charges in Russia since the Cold War.
His arrest comes amid high tensions between Moscow and Washington over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and as the Kremlin cracks down internally on free speech.
Griner was released from a Russian penal colony in December in exchange for arms dealer Viktor Bout after she pleaded guilty to having vape canisters with cannabis oil in her luggage, but said she had no criminal intent.
There had been hopes that Paul Whelan — a U.S. corporate security executive jailed in Russia on espionage charges — might be included in the exchange, but he remains imprisoned.
In recent years, Russian President Vladimir Putin has overseen the largest crackdown on the free press and political dissent since the Soviet era.
His full-scale invasion of Ukraine has seen that intensify, with the country adopting strict laws that prohibit criticism of the military and many journalists fleeing the country.
“Let’s wait to see what the FSB specifically presents, but it appears that they have taken a hostage,” said Tatiana Stanovaya, a nonresident scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the founder and head of the political analysis firm R.Politik.
“This undoubtedly brings Russia and the United States’ relationship to a new level of confrontation,” she added.
This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.