On March 29, 2023, Russian officials detained American journalist Evan Gershkovich in the city of Yekaterinburg. He is currently being accused of espionage after reporting on a Russian military facility. This is the first American reported to have been charged with espionage in Russia since the mid-1980s.
Maine Campus Media interviewed Dr. James Warhola regarding Gershkovich’s detention. Warhola was a political science professor at the University of Maine for 37 years, as well as a visiting research professor at Moscow State University. In his time at the University of Maine, Warhola taught several classes, including Soviet foreign policy, politics in Russia and an introductory course in comparative politics.
Foreign relations between the United States and Russia have been particularly tense for the last several decades.
“Russia presently considers the U.S. to be an unfriendly nation and that doesn’t sound very bad, but in diplomatic circles and certainly from Russia’s perspective, it’s a really, really serious thing. They consider that the U.S. is basically waging a proxy war against Russia, and Ukraine is the venue,” Warhola said. “[Gershkovich] was doing some reporting on Russia’s declining economic capability, especially as it pertained to military production. My understanding is that he was in the area of some military production facilities, including a tank factory. That, of course, is immediately going to raise suspicion on the part of Russian officials that he’s engaging in more than just journalism.”
Many people are concerned about Gershkovich’s eventual release, but when asked what the likelihood of his release was, Warhola did not seem overly optimistic.
“The conviction rate in Russia for criminal cases is very close to a 100% chance that you’re going to be found guilty. They’ve said that they’re going to detain [Gershkovich] until May 29th,” Warhola explained. “In the meantime, they’ll level some specific charges against him, and then he will go to trial…So, you know, if all that follows through in that way and there isn’t some diplomatic intervention to get him out of there, in all likelihood, he’ll end up with about a 20-year sentence… Then maybe after 10 years, they revisit the case and decide that they found some other things that he did wrong. So then they can slap more charges on him and stretch out his time in prison even longer.”
At this time, there is very little that can be done to free Gershkovich from Russian detention. However, the U.S. State Department is currently putting together a case of unlawful detention. There is the possibility of a prisoner swap with Russia, as has recently been accomplished with WNBA player Brittney Griner. While this is likely Gershkovich’s best chance of returning home, there is no current plan to do so.