Russian President Vladimir Putin personally approved the arrest of an American journalist accused of espionage for the first time since the Cold War, according to sources with knowledge of the situation.
The Russian president’s backing for the move reflects the growing influence of Kremlin hardliners who are pushing to deepen a standoff with Washington they see as irreversible, said the people, speaking on condition of anonymity on non-responsible issues. public.
The arrest of Wall Street Journal journalist Evan Gershkovich on March 29 prompted angry denunciations by the United States and its allies, marking another sticking point in US-Russian ties, which have soured since the invasion of Ukraine. by Putin last year.
“This should be a real wake-up call, not just for the US, but for the entire West,” said Alina Polyakova, president of the Center for European Policy Analysis in Washington. “It is a sign that in Putin’s mind there is no going back to a stable and trustworthy relationship.”
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As the war enters its second year, the Kremlin has increasingly tried to present it as an existential fight against a NATO bent on destroying Russia. Measures like the arrest warrant against Putin for war crimes issued by the International Criminal Court in the past month they have only reinforced the leadership’s sense that there is no room to back down in a conflict that is expected to last for years.
Parliament this week rushed to pass a harsher sentence for those who try to evade military service. The changes create a new online system for delivering call-up notices and prohibit those who ignore them from leaving the country, closing loopholes that many had used to avoid conscription. The measure, which is expected to be promulgated shortly by Putin, has fueled fears that a new mobilization will take place this year. The Kremlin claims that no such plans exist at the moment. Last year, the call-up of 300,000 reservists led to the exodus of up to a million Russians..
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The move to detain an American journalist accused of spying for the first time in nearly 40 years came from hardliners among senior officials in Russia’s security services, the people with knowledge of the matter said.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov he said it was not Putin’s decision, but “a full prerogative of the special services. They were doing their job.” These bodies report directly to the president.
Gershkovich, 31, was arrested in Yekaterinburg, some 1,400 kilometers east of Moscow, by agents of the Federal Security Service (FSB). Accused of espionage, which carries a 20-year sentence, he is being held in Moscow’s Lefortovo prison and, for the moment, Russia has not granted consular access to the United States. The Kremlin says it was caught “red-handed” but has provided no evidence. The Wall Street Journal denies the allegations.
The State Department has formally determined that Gershkovich was wrongfully detained by Russia, clearing the way for the US to negotiate on his behalf.
Russia has pushed for the inclusion in previous prisoner swaps of Kremlin whistleblower Vladislav Klyushin, convicted in February of insider trading and computer hacking, according to people familiar with the matter. He has information related to the hack into Democratic Party servers during the 2016 presidential election, they said.
Russia and the US conducted two prisoner exchanges last year, including one in December, when they traded WNBA star Brittney Griner for notorious arms dealer Viktor Bout.
President Joe Biden spoke to Gershkovich’s family on April 11, assuring them that “the government is doing everything in its power to bring him home as quickly as possible,” the family said in a statement.
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