The shocking arrest of Evan Gershkovich, an American reporter in Russia for The Wall Street Journal, marks the latest assault on freedom by Vladimir Putin.
Gershkovich represents a highly respected, influential, surviving authentic-news organization and is a most unlikely foreign agent. Poignantly, his parents, Jewish Russians, fled the Soviet Union in 1979.
This is the first arrest of a U.S. journalist by Russia since the end of the Cold War, but only the latest example of escalating repression.
Alexei Navalny, a prominent Russia opposition leader, is a prisoner following his brave return to Russia in 2021. He had been evacuated to Germany for emergency medical treatment after being poisoned.
Before Navalny returned, authorities there tried to intimidate journalists and restrict protests supporting him. State media regulator Roskomnadzor demanded social media not post information related to protests.
In Britain in March 2018, a police officer found Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, unconscious on a park bench in Salisbury, a city near London. Authorities immediately hospitalized them in intensive care. The nerve agent responsible sickened the officer, likewise hospitalized.
Skripal worked for the GRU, the military intelligence arm of Russia. He also was a double agent for British intelligence from 1995.
In September 2018, opposition activist Peter Verzilov became severely ill after a court hearing related to a protest and his subsequent arrest. He also was flown to Berlin for specialist medical treatment, where poisoning was diagnosed as the likely cause.
Vladimir Kara-Murza, an opposition leader and journalist, suffered two severe health attacks in 2015 and 2017. The diagnosis in each case was probable poisoning. He is vice chairman of Open Russia, an organization founded by successful business entrepreneur Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a strong Putin opponent who has been persecuted and imprisoned.
A particularly prominent victim is Alexander Litvinenko, who died in London in November 2006 from acute radiation poisoning. Litvinenko was a former colleague of Putin in the KGB, the principal arms of state security in the Soviet Union, an agency rightly feared for ruthless methods and effective results.
Putin is a product of distinctive KGB culture.
Litvinenko defected to Britain, where he until silenced was a prominent and influential public critic of Putin and the government of Russia. After a meticulous thorough investigation, representatives of Scotland Yard testified in a public inquiry the Russian government was involved in this killing.
Earlier, critics of Russia’s regime sometimes died violently gangland style, in public. In early 2009, near the Kremlin on a sunny day on a public street, a gunman murdered activist attorney Stanislav Markelov. Journalist Anastasia Baburova tried to help him and was killed. The hitman was a pro, his pistol equipped with a silencer.
Markelov had denounced release from prison of Colonel Yuri Budanov, convicted of strangling a woman during the Chechnya war.
Today, Russian military aggression, related espionage and sabotage, and other outrages are constant. The invasion of Ukraine is only the most extreme example. Military involvement beyond Ukraine is extensive. Interference in U.S. elections is notorious. Harassment of American and other citizens is a part of this picture.
Winston Churchill observed “the key” to Russia is national interest. We must actively seek levers to secure the release of Gershkovich.
In 2021, courageous journalist Dmitry Muratov of Russia received the Nobel Peace Prize. Last June, he auctioned the prize for $103.5 million, which was donated to UNICEF to aid Ukrainian children.
In March, the Kremlin shut down his news organization, “Novaya Gazeta.”
— Arthur I. Cyr is author of “After the Cold War” (NYU Press and Palgrave/Macmillan). Contact [email protected].
This article originally appeared on Sturgis Journal: Arthur Cyr: Russia is strangling freedom through intimidation