Russia took an American hostage...again

AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko

As you’ve probably heard by now, the Russian security service arrested a Wall Street Journal reporter Wednesday, dragging him out of steakhouse where he was having dinner. He is now being charged with spying.

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The last time Wall Street Journal staff heard from Evan Gershkovich was Wednesday, just before 4 p.m., when he had arrived at a steakhouse in the Russian city of Yekaterinburg. It was the Russia correspondent’s second trip to the Ural mountains in a month.

Shortly before lunch, a colleague wrote him a text: “Hey buddy, good luck today.”

“Thanks brotha,” replied Mr. Gershkovich: “I’ll let you know how it goes.”

Hours later, the Journal newsroom was scrambling to reach contacts in Yekaterinburg, Moscow and Washington. A vague post on the Russian messaging service Telegram reported that security agents had taken a diner from a Yekaterinburg steakhouse with his hood up…

His employer, colleagues and the Biden administration all deny Russia’s claim that he was spying on behalf of the U.S., and have called for his immediate release. Diplomats and legal experts see little hope Mr. Gershkovich, a reporter accredited by the Russian foreign ministry, will immediately be freed, given that espionage trials in Russia are conducted in secret and almost always end in a conviction.

What’s really going on here was spelled out today by the Washington Post‘s editorial board. This is hostage taking, no different from the treatment of Brittney Griner last year.

The arrest of Wall Street Journal correspondent Evan Gershkovich in Russia on espionage charges should be seen clearly and immediately for what it truly represents: hostage-taking by the Kremlin. President Vladimir Putin is engaging in state-sponsored barbarism…

Mr. Gershkovich may have been taken because the FSB profited handsomely from the arrest of American basketball star Brittney Griner, who was later traded for the notorious Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.

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As for the specific reasons the Kremlin targeted this reporter at this moment, take your pick. The most obvious possibility is that Russia is responding to the fraud charges brought against Sergey Vladimirovich Cherkasov last week. Cherkasov is a Russian spy who’d been in the US under a false name.

Cherkasov (“Cherkasov”), 37, a national of the Russian Federation who operated as an “Illegal” agent for a Russian Intelligence Service (“RIS”) under the Brazilian alias of Victor Muller Ferreira, was charged today for acting as an agent of a foreign power, visa fraud, bank fraud, wire fraud, and other charges stemming from his illegal activities in the United States. Cherkasov started acting as an Illegal agent in 2012 in Brazil using the Ferreira name, and he moved to the United States in 2018 after obtaining admission to a graduate school program at a University 1, a university located in the District of Columbia. Cherkasov is currently incarcerated in Brazil on fraud charges.

Cherkasov spent years in Brazil establishing his cover and was apparently trying to get a job working for the International Criminal Court in the Hague. Maybe Putin thought that would come in handy in case he’s ever arrested and faces those war crimes charges. In any case, putting an end to Cherkasov’s run as Victor Ferreira must have been embarrassing for the Kremlin. But it’s just one of a string of recent embarrassments for Russian spies. Earlier this month, Poland arrested nine Russian spies.

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Polish authorities said Thursday that the nation’s security services detained members of a Russian espionage ring, alleging they were preparing acts of sabotage in Poland and had been monitoring railroad routes used for the transport of weapons into Ukraine.

Interior Minister Mariusz Kamiński said the Internal Security Agency arrested nine people suspected of spying for Russia in the case.

Also this month, Greece identified another deep cover Russian spy:

Greece’s National Intelligence Service, EYP, made an unusual statement regarding a woman who was found to be working as a spy for Russia under the cover of a knitting supply store…

The woman was identified only as Maria T., and EYP did not reveal for which country she was working. However, later media reports named her as Maria Tsalla, and EYP believes her real name is Irina Alexandrovna Smireva…

The agency revealed that the woman had pretended to be Greek and worked as a photographer and owner of a craft and knitting supplies store in Athens. She had been in possession of Greek citizenship and an identity card since 2018 and had been working under “deep cover.”

If you go back to late last year, countries all over Europe were busting Russian spies:

SwedenNorway and Germany say they have uncovered and disrupted attempted Russian spying in recent months…

The head of Britain’s MI6 foreign intelligence service says roughly half of Russia’s spies working under diplomatic cover in Europe were expelled within six months of the invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

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So there are plenty of Russian spies sitting in foreign jails right now that Russia would probably like to get back. In fact, the fact that so many spies have been busted may have the Russians concerned that people are talking.

Officially, Russia has already said they won’t consider any trade for Gershkovich, the WSJ reporter, right now. As they did with Brittney Griner, they’ll probably drag this out though some kind of kangaroo court so that Gershkovich is facing decades in prison before they make a trade. It’s an obvious way to maximize the trade value of their American hostage.

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David Strom 5:00 PM | May 23, 2024
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