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US journalist Evan Gershkovich to stand trial in Russia on espionage charges

FILE - 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, April 23, 2024
FILE - 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, April 23, 2024 Copyright AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, File
Copyright AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, File
By Euronews with AP
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Wall Street Journal reporter Gershkovich is accused by Russian authorities of collecting secret information for the CIA about Uralvagonzavod, a military equipment facility in the Sverdlovsk region.

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Russian authorities have announced that US journalist Evan Gershkovich, who has been jailed for over a year on espionage charges, will be standing trial in the Ural Mountains city of Yekaterinburg.

According to Russia's Prosecutor General's office, an indictment of the Wall Street Journal reporter has been finalised and his case filed to the Sverdlovsky Regional Court in the city about 1,400 kilometres east of Moscow.

Gershkovich is accused of "gathering secret information" on orders from the CIA about Uralvagonzavod, a facility in the Sverdlovsk region that produces and repairs military equipment, the Prosecutor General's office said in a statement — the first time details of of the allegations have been revealed.

The officials didn't provide any evidence to back up the accusations. There was no word on when the trial would begin.

Gershkovich was detained while on a reporting trip to Yekaterinburg in March 2023 and accused of spying for the US. The reporter, his employer and the US government denied the allegations, and Washington designated him as wrongfully detained.

The Federal Security Service, or FSB, alleged at the time he was acting on US orders to collect state secrets but also provided no evidence.

Uralvagonzavod, a state tank and railroad car factory in the city of Nizhny Tagil about 100 kilometres north of Yekaterinburg, became known in 2011-12 as a bedrock of support for President Vladimir Putin.

Plant foreman Igor Kholmanskih appeared on Putin's annual phone-in program in December 2011 and denounced mass protests occurring in Moscow at the time as a threat to "stability", proposing that he and his colleagues travel to the capital to help suppress the unrest. A week later, Putin appointed Kholmanskikh to be his envoy in the region.

A billboard calling for release of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich in Times Square, New York, on the one-year anniversary of his imprisonment in Russia.
A billboard calling for release of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich in Times Square, New York, on the one-year anniversary of his imprisonment in Russia.Yuki Iwamura/AP

Gershkovich faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

He 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 was fluent in Russian and moved to the country in 2017 to work for The Moscow Times newspaper before being hired by the WS Journal in 2022.

Since his arrest, Gershkovich has been held at Moscow's Lefortovo Prison, a notorious czarist-era prison used during Josef Stalin's purges, when executions were carried out in its basement.

The Biden administration has sought to negotiate his release, but Russia's Foreign Ministry said it would consider a prisoner swap only after a verdict in his trial.

Since the start of its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Russian authorities have detained several US nationals and other Westerners.

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."

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, which appeared to be Vadim Krasikov. He was serving a life sentence for the 2019 killing in Berlin of a Georgian citizen of Chechen descent.

Asked last week by The Associated Press about Gershkovich, Putin said the US is "taking energetic steps" to secure his release. He told international news agencies in St Petersburg that any such releases "aren't decided via mass media" but through a "discreet, calm and professional approach".

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

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