ILYA PITALEV/SPUTNIK/AFP via Getty Images
- Numerous countries have detained or expelled suspected Russian spies in recent months.
- Putin’s regime arrested a US reporter with the Wall Street Journal on espionage charges this week.
- Experts told NBC News said Putin could be using Evan Gershkovich’s detention for leverage.
Earlier this week, Russian authorities detained American journalist Evan Gershkovich after he was accused of “espionage in the interests of the American government.” The arrest comes after several countries detained or expelled hundreds of suspected Russian spies in the preceding weeks and months.
The allegations of spying against Gershkovich are firmly denied by the Wall Street Journal. The news outlet demanded the 31-year-olds immediate release.
On Saturday, NBC reported that Gershkovich has been investigating the Wagner Group, often described as Putin’s private army, and a tank factory in the Ural Mountains city of Yekaterinburg. A Russian journalist had warned him the Russian security service could follow him.
Putin and his regime could be aiming to use Gershkovich’s detention as leverage for the release of suspected Russian spies abroad, or they are possibly trying to show the Russian people that foreigners are trying to undermine the country, John Sipher, a former senior CIA officer who was based in Russia, told NBC News.
“A lot of things are coming together here, and it’s hard to say what this is, but it’s clearly part of the arsenal of weapons for the Kremlin. They can use it to trade for somebody,” Sipher said.
“Putin could be playing to his domestic audience to reinforce the message that the West is plotting to weaken Russia, or he could be looking for a bargaining chip to win concessions from the West, including possibly securing the release of Russians charged with spying abroad,” Sipher said.
Hundreds of suspected Russian spies have been expelled
Sergey Vladimirovich Cherkasov, pictured in Russian military uniform
Department of Justice
Last week, documents released by the Department of Justice revealed the dramatic story of an accused Russian spy. After Sergey Cherkasov was arrested in Brazil, the DOJ is bringing an espionage case against him for operating undercover in the US, Insider reported.
Russia is well-known for having an extensive web of international spies, but Western authorities have been working to dismantle the networks, Insider previously reported.
A British intelligence official said more than 400 spies were expelled from Europe in 2022.
Earlier in March, Polish authorities said they foiled a Russian spy ring and arrested nine people who were suspected of sabotaging weapon shipments to Ukraine. In a similar case in Australia in February, a local newspaper reported that authorities expelled a large Russian spy ring — whose members were posing as diplomats — from the country.
Countries across Scandinavia have also made a significant clampdown on those accused of Russian espionage, Politico reports.
While authorities generally try to minimize publicity of cases of suspected espionage, Russia’s prolonged invasion of Ukraine has led to increasingly conspicuous arrests in the West of those accused of spying for the Russian regime, NBC News reported.
A new report from a British think tank found that Russia’s security and intelligence services were more effective than its military regarding the Ukraine war.