White House National Security spokesman John Kirby said Thursday that the Biden administration is working to gain access to Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, who was arrested in Russia on charges of espionage.
“We’re doing everything we can right now to learn more about Evan’s detention; we’re doing everything we can to try to gain consular access to him. And we’re going to keep doing everything we can to keep his family informed as we learn more,” he told reporters on Thursday.
“We’re doing the best we can to glean as much information as possible. And certainly … to get access to Evan, that’s where our heads are,” he added.
Gershkovich was arrested by the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), the main successor agency to the Soviet-era KGB, in Yekaterinburg, located in the Ural Mountains, where he was allegedly trying to gain access to classified information, according to Russian authorities. The Journal rejected the allegations that Gershkovich was conducting espionage.
Kirby said the U.S. had no “heads up” and was not aware that the Russians would target reporters ahead of Gershkovich’s arrest. The Journal reported that his detention was the first since the Cold War of an American journalist in Russia.
“It’s too soon to know or to be able to indicate that this is some sort of larger movement afoot here. We’re focused on Evan. We’re focused on … getting consular access to him as soon as we can so that we can access for ourselves the condition that he is in and we can keep his family informed,” he said. “We’re going to try to get access to him again as soon as possible.”
President Biden was briefed Thursday morning about Gershkovich’s detention, Kirby said. Representatives from the Journal spoke with officials from the White House and State Department on Wednesday evening and the Biden administration has also been in touch with Gershkovich’s family, according to the White House.
When asked if there is a concern that Russia was encouraged to arrest more high-profile Americans after basketball star Brittney Griner was released in a prisoner swap, Kirby said that Russian President Vladimir Putin detaining foreigners is not new.
“Sadly, this is not a new tactic for Mr. Putin and for Russian officials to detain foreigners and in particular, Americans,” he said.
“It’s not new for them to detain Americans and it’s certainly not new for Mr. Putin to strike back against a free and independent press,” he later added.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre in a statement echoed Kirby’s comments that the targeting of Americans was unacceptable. The White House also warned Americans against traveling to Russia.