Russia’s detention of an American reporter is a big deal

Briefly: US citizen Evan Gershkovich appealed the Russian espionage charges against him on Monday. The Wall Street Journal reporter is the first American journalist detained in Russia since 1986.

In detaining Gershkovich, Russia likely has two aims:

  1. Instill a deep sense of fear among journalists (foreign and domestic) that any undesirable reporting is grounds for arrest, and
  2. Force the US into a prisoner swap for a high-value Russian in US custody.

You might recall the US recently traded a notorious Russian arms dealer (‘the Merchant of Death’) for American basketballer Brittney Griner. She’d been sentenced to nine years in prison for bringing less than a gram of hashish oil into Russia.

Intrigue’s take: This kind of ‘hostage diplomacy’ is deplorable. And for autocrats, it’s also effective. They know voters will place intense pressure on democratic leaders to negotiate the release of a fellow citizen stuck unjustly in some distant dungeon.

So unfortunately, there aren’t any good options for the US here. But the worst option is leaving Gershkovich there in Lefortovo Prison, notorious for its role in Stalin’s purges.

Also worth noting: