Russia Sets Date for Start of Evan Gershkovich’s Trial

A court in Russia said on Monday that the espionage trial of the imprisoned American journalist Evan Gershkovich would start next week and that the proceedings would be held behind closed doors.

The first hearing, set for June 26, will come almost 15 months after Mr. Gershkovich, 32, was detained by security agents in the Russian city of Yekaterinburg, about 900 miles east of Moscow. After spending more than a year in a high-security prison in Moscow, Mr. Gershkovich, a reporter for The Wall Street Journal, is likely to be transferred back to Yekaterinburg to stand trial.

Mr. Gershkovich had worked in Russia as a journalist for various publications for more than five years before his arrest. His employer and the U.S. government have denied the charges against him. The State Department has designated Mr. Gershkovich as “wrongfully detained,” which effectively compels it to work for his safe release.

The announcement of a trial date represents a significant step in Mr. Gershkovich’s legal case, which has been continuing in parallel with talks between Russian and American security services for a possible exchange.

The Russian authorities have suggested that they could be open to a prisoner swap for Mr. Gershkovich, but only after a verdict is handed down in his case. An espionage trial usually takes about four months in Russia but can take up to a year, according to lawyers who have worked on such cases.

Last week, Russian prosecutors said they had finalized the espionage indictment against Mr. Gershkovich. They said that “under instructions from the C.I.A.” and “using painstaking conspiratorial methods,” Mr. Gershkovich “was collecting secret information” about a factory that produces tanks and other weapons in the Sverdlovsk region.

The prosecutors’ statement was the first time that Russian state representatives revealed details of the accusations against Mr. Gershkovich. But it lacked evidence to back up the accusations.

Held behind closed doors, the trial is unlikely to shed more light on his case.

The trial will be heard by Andrei N. Mineev a judge on the Sverdlovsk regional court in Yekaterinburg, according to a statement from the court. In a 2021 interview with a Russian news website, Mr. Mineev said that he had only delivered about four acquittals in his decades-long career. If convicted, Mr. Gershkovich faces up to 20 years in prison.

The Wall Street Journal issued a statement last week predicting a “sham trial.”

Mr. Gershkovich is one of several American nationals who have been detained in Russia in recent years, and his case has raised fears that the Kremlin is seeking to use U.S. citizens as bargaining chips to be exchanged for Russians held in the West.

Other Americans held in Russia include Paul Whelan, a U.S. Marine veteran; Alsu Kurmasheva, an editor working for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty; and Marc Fogel, an American teacher at the Anglo-American School in Moscow, who in 2022 was sentenced to 14 years in a penal colony for drug smuggling. Last week a Russian court sentenced Yuri Malev, a Russian and American national, to three and a half years in a penal colony after he had criticized Russia, its leadership and its war in Ukraine on social media.

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