Russian President Vladimir Putin personally approved the arrest of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich at the end of last month, Bloomberg reported Wednesday.
People familiar with the situation told the outlet that Putin’s backing of detaining Gershkovich on allegations of espionage shows how hardliners in the Kremlin are increasingly gaining influence to push for confrontations with the United States.
Gershkovich was detained while in Yekaterinburg on charges that he was spying for the U.S. government, which the U.S. and the Journal have both denied.
The Journal declared Gershkovich’s arrest to be a “vicious affront” to the free press and has repeatedly demanded that he be released. President Biden said his detainment is “totally illegal” and has also called for him to be granted his freedom.
The State Department officially declared Gershkovich to be “wrongfully detained” on Monday. Roger Carstens, the special presidential envoy for hostage affairs, said on Wednesday that the determination allows the federal government to take comprehensive action to try to free him.
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said Putin did not make the decision to have Gershkovich arrested, but the detainment was “the total prerogative of the special services.” The Russian Federal Security Service, the main successor agency to the Soviet-era KGB that reports directly to Putin, carried out the arrest.
Gershkovich could face up to 20 years in prison if he is convicted of espionage. Russia’s more than 99 percent conviction rate has been internationally criticized as part of a criminal justice system widely seen as unfair.
He is the first U.S. journalist to be arrested in Russia on allegations of spying since the Cold War.
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