Thursday Briefing: Evan Gershkovich’s Trial

Evan Gershkovich, a Wall Street Journal reporter and a U.S. citizen, has already endured 15 months in a notorious Moscow prison. Yesterday, his trial finally began.

Shortly before the proceedings started, journalists filmed Gershkovich standing in a glass cage and nodding at people in the courtroom, video showed.

Gershkovich, 32, faces up to 20 years in a penal colony on a spying charge that he, his employer and the U.S. have all called bogus and politically motivated. There is little doubt about the outcome of the trial, but there may be hope: a prisoner exchange.

“It’s widely accepted that the Russian state regards his case as leverage to get Russians held in custody — either in the U.S. or in other Western countries,” said my colleague Ivan Nechepurenko, who is based in Tbilisi, Georgia, and has covered Gershkovich’s case.

“There’s going to be this trial, but the more important process will be the ongoing talks between Russian and American intelligence services about a potential prisoner exchange,” Ivan said.

The Russian authorities haven’t revealed any evidence to support their charges. Observers have been barred from attending the trial, which began in the industrial city of Yekaterinburg, near the Ural Mountains. His lawyers have been prohibited from publicly revealing anything they learn.

But, Ivan said, Gershkovich has a lot of public support, which could turn up the heat on U.S. negotiators, as it did for Brittney Griner, the W.N.B.A. star, who was detained in Russia and released in late 2022.

“It basically all depends on whether the U.S. and Russia can make a deal,” Ivan told me. Gershkovich is the first Western journalist to be arrested on espionage charges in Russia since the 1980s.

Also in Russia: A prominent playwright and a director are being prosecuted for their work. Cultural figures say their trial on terrorism charges is a chilling sign of increased repression.

In a sudden reversal, President William Ruto said yesterday that he would not sign a controversial finance bill, a day after rights groups said that at least 23 people were killed during protests in Nairobi against the measure.

“Listening keenly to the people of Kenya who have said loudly that they want nothing to do with this finance bill, I concede,” Ruto said in an address to the country, “and therefore, I will not sign the 2024 finance bill, and it shall subsequently be withdrawn.”

Tuesday was one of the bloodiest days in Kenya’s recent history. Ruto deployed the military to deal with what he called “treasonous” protests. Some people vowed to march again today to protest the crackdown and mourn those killed.

Context: Kenya is the fastest-growing economy in Africa but it is also on the brink of a fiscal calamity, with $80 billion in domestic and foreign public debt. Ruto had championed the bill as a way to stabilize the economy. Those against it argued that the tax hikes would raise the cost of living by too much.

President Luis Arce said on social media yesterday that members of Bolivia’s military had gathered outside the presidential palace in an attempted coup.

The action appeared to be an effort by a general to take over the government building.

Standing on the doorstep of the palace in La Paz and surrounded by members of the armed forces, the general, Juan José Zúñiga, said that the Bolivian army, air force and navy were “mobilized” and that “the police force is also with us.”

Former President Evo Morales claimed that a “coup” was underway. “At this time, personnel from the Armed Forces and tanks are deployed in Plaza Murillo,” he said on social media. “Let’s call on the social movements of the countryside and the city to defend democracy.”

A fatal fungal disease has devastated the world’s frog population. But scientists may have come up with a solution: saunas.

Researchers in Australia found that sun-warmed bricks attract the green and golden bell frog, a vulnerable species, and raise its body temperature, helping it fight off infection and giving it a degree of immunity.

In a global marketplace reshaped by volatile forces — especially the animosity between the U.S. and China — some multinational retailers are turning away from Chinese factories. Instead, many are looking to India, which may be on the verge of becoming a major manufacturing power.

The shift could fortify the global supply chain and lift fortunes in India. The country has roughly one billion people of working age, but about only 430 million jobs, according to an independent research institution. Growing exports could be a source of new jobs — especially for women, who have been largely shut out of the formal working ranks.

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