Mr. Putin takes another hostage

Evan Gershkovich, young Wall Street Journal reporter based in Moscow, must have been surprised to have suddenly found himself under arrest in Yekaterinburg, a huge city of 1.5 million just east of the Urals.

Even more surprising, he was charged with espionage, a charge that exposes him to long sentences if convicted, and doesn't leave him much of a defense in court if the evidence is fabricated.

According to NBC News:

Russian authorities on Thursday arrested an American journalist for The Wall Street Journal on spying charges. 

Evan Gershkovich was detained in the Ural Mountains city of Yekaterinburg on suspicion of “espionage in the interests of the American government,” the Federal Security Service (FSB) said in a statement, which was reported by state media.

The FSB accused Gershkovich of collecting “information constituting a state secret about the activities of one of the enterprises of the Russian military-industrial complex.”

The Journal denied the charges.

The FSB provided no evidence or further details on when Gershkovich was detained. He was later taken to the Lefortovo court in Moscow and formally arrested. The court quickly ordered Gershkovich’s initial detention until May 29, according to the official Telegram channel of the capital’s courts.

Lefortovo court? As in, the famous Lefortovo prison where the KGB used to drop "traitors" to the motherland in the furnace? Whatever it's like now, Gershkovich is in for a hell of an ordeal.

The charges are almost certainly bee ess, too. U.S. intelligence agencies historically keep a distance from reporters from actual news agencies. Although they might have someone pose as a freelancer, or else use a freelancer, they are unlikely to touch anyone working for a bona fide news organization. Having worked for Gershkovich's company, Dow Jones, I know the management there wouldn't have tolerated it, he'd have been fired instantly if they thought that he was involved in something like espionage, and they wouldn't care who it was for. One only needs to recall the case of Wall Street Journal senior foreign corresondent, Jay Solomon, whose computer was hacked in an act that exposed his emails, revealing that he had conflicts of interest based on his overly familiar involvement with a Middle Eastern arms trafficker. Reporters at the Journal aren't supposed to be in bed with their sources or the government. Odds are sky high that Gershkovich was not a spy.   

But that's not what this is about. For starters, take a look at the kinds of reports Gershkovich did in his Russia coverage -- viewable here.

Russia’s Economy Is Starting to Come Undone

Investment is down, labor is scarce, budget is squeezed. Oligarch: ‘There will be no money next year’

Georgi Kantchev and Evan Gershkovich

March 28, 2023

Russia Makes a Habit of Harassing U.S. Planes, Pentagon Says

U.S. Defense Department officials cited a pattern of aggressive and risky actions by Russian forces toward the U.S., a day after a Russian jet collided with a U.S. spy drone.

Nancy A. Youssef, Evan Gershkovich and Thomas Grove

March 15, 2023

These are all damning stories, exposing the weakness and failures of the Putin regime. Intriguingly, he reported on the mercenary activities of the Wagner group, which couldn't have been easy, of course, but that's the group led by the Russian oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin, who was caught on that infamous phone conversation with another oligarch calling Putin "Satan" and a "dwarf." Gershkovich wrote about how his mercenary bid to retake an eastern Ukrainian city was failing miserably.

You know they didn't like that guy. Both Putin and the shady Prigozhin would have had a problem with him. Gershkovich wrote a lot, and he revealed the problems he saw for a very big audience. If you have a subscription to click onto the links, notice the sourcing and detail in his stories, which, as a former reporter myself, know takes a hell of a lot of time and initiative. Gershkovich wouldn't have even had time to sneak around and play espionage as the Russians claim because he obviously was too busy reporting, look at how many stories he did!

The Russian regime would have hated this guy just for his indefatigable reporting alone. Of course they wanted that to stop -- the locals, after all, might read them. The espionage charges alone could be explained as a means of getting him off the beat to see him replaced by a timid hack too afraid to leave his desk.

But there also was a likely second reason -- named Joe Biden.

Biden's the guy who's easy to roll, based on the facile prisoner exchange of basketball star Brittney Griner, who was slapped with draconian charges for a minor drug offense and sent to the Gulag for a long sentence, for notorious Russian arms trafficker Viktor Bout, who was held in the U.S. for spreading death in Africa's wars and aiding FARC narcoterrorists of Colombia to kill Americans. Bout got busted in Bangkok and was imprisoned in Indiana. He was a criminal with massive ties to the underworld, where he was known as the merchant of death. By this report, he was even eviler than Putin. The lopsided trade was made, though, because Joe Biden was feeling political pressure from his base, and Putin knew that he would capitulate. That gave Putin his favorite arms dealer back to wreak more global havoc, and the U.S. ... Brittney Griner. While Griner should have been released in some deal of some kind, Biden pretty well gave away the store for that deal. He didn't play tough with Putin.

Which is why there isn't much to trade now for the next American who gets effectively taken hostage as many of us had predicted at the time. Unfortunately, the short straw for that setup came up with the name 'Gershkovich.'

Prigozhin could just as easily have been behind this as Putin, though the Kremlin's doings are always very murky. They are allies, and perhaps Putin chose to ignore his friend's indiscretions or forgive them, because he has such a shrinking circle of internal allies.

Prigozhin revealed his true creepy colors in an email today to the Daily Beast -- look how mafia-like he is in his mocking, chilling threats:

The Daily Beast has received a bizarre audio recording from none other than Yevgeny Prigozhin, the notorious head of Russia’s Wagner Group.

In the audio clip, sent in response to a comment request for a story related to the private mercenary group, Prigozhin makes it quite clear that he has no interest in hearing from The Daily Beast’s Allison Quinn.

“Dear Allison, baby, you are asking too many questions today,” he said in the audio recording on Thursday. “I am busy searching my garden plot for the corpse of your colleague, and you are asking me about some new events.”

Prigozhin’s ominous statement about corpse-hunting in his garden is likely a reference to an earlier message the mercenary boss provided to The Daily Beast, when asked about the arrest of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich.

Gershkovich, a U.S. citizen, was arrested on espionage charges in Russia on Thursday morning. According to some local reports, the journalist was reporting on the Wagner Group before he was detained in Yekaterinburg.

When asked about Gershkovich’s arrest, Prigozhin said in a statement to The Daily Beast that he would be willing to “check the torture cellar in my house to see if he’s there.”

“At first glance, I didn’t see him among the American journalists I keep there by the dozens. I can, if you want, also look at the fresh graves of foreign journalists on my house plot. But if I’m not mistaken, we didn’t bury him there either,” he said.

He's just a barrel of laughs, isn't he?

It underlines what a dirty, dangerous game this hostage incentivization has become now that weak, easily manipulated Joe Biden has made it easy for Putin to get what he wants just by taking Ameican hostages.  Biden doesn't have another Bout to trade for Gershkovich and the Russians are likely to do their worst to him on their phony charges, raising the pressure on Joe, whom they know will capitulate again.

They may trade Gershkovich for other things -- such as an end to sanctions for Prigozhin, or Putin, or Putin's daughters, or Putin's main squeeze, all of whom have had sanctions slapped on them, or they may demand the return of the seized oligarch yachts, or the unfreezing of money held in bank accounts of Putin's allies, or an end to arms sales for Ukraine, or a Ukrainian deal on their terms, or any number of other demands, quite possibly all of them, for the safe return of the reporter. After that, U.S. leverage will be exposed as nil and U.S. sanctions will never again quite have the same bite now that they can be lifted so easily, just by taking a hostage. 

That's Joe Biden's weakness in action, forcing Americans to pay a terrible price.

Image: Open Clipart // CC0 1.0 public domain license




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