WASHINGTON — A top State Department official has summoned the Russian ambassador in Washington to a meeting at the agency’s headquarters to criticize Russia’s detention of a Wall Street Journal reporter, according to a State Department official.
Victoria Nuland, the third-ranking official at the department, spoke with Anatoly Antonov, the Russian ambassador, last Thursday, the same day that the reporter, Evan Gershkovich, appeared in a court in Moscow, where he was formally arrested on charges of espionage. The Russian authorities had detained Mr. Gershkovich, 31, earlier that day in Yekaterinburg, where he had been on a reporting trip.
On Monday, Mr. Gershkovich’s defense lawyers appealed his arrest, Russian state news agencies reported.
Over the weekend, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken spoke with Sergey V. Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, to demand the “immediate release” of Mr. Gershkovich, State Department officials said. CNN first reported on Tuesday the prior summons of the Russian ambassador.
On Tuesday, the White House press secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre, called the charges against Mr. Gershkovich “ridiculous.” Speaking at a news briefing, she said: “Evan is not a spy, Evan has never been a spy, Evan has never worked for the U.S. government, and he is an independent journalist employed by The Wall Street Journal.”
Emma Tucker, the editor in chief of The Wall Street Journal, said on the CBS News show “Face the Nation” on Sunday that she hoped the State Department would “move swiftly” to formally announce that Mr. Gershkovich had been wrongfully detained. That is a legal designation by the agency that often results in greater latitude of action by the U.S. government to try to get the detainee liberated.
The State Department has applied that label to Paul Whelan, a former U.S. Marine imprisoned in Russia on an espionage conviction. It did the same with Brittney Griner, an American basketball star who was detained by Russia on drug charges days before President Vladimir V. Putin ordered a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. Russia released Ms. Griner in December after the United States agreed to free Viktor Bout, a convicted Russian arms dealer.
In a statement on Monday, Alexei Melnikov, the secretary of Moscow’s public oversight commission — a group of civil society members who monitor human rights in pretrial detention centers — said that he had visited Mr. Gershkovich at Lefortovo Prison in Moscow, where he is being detained.
The prison was used by the K.G.B. as a place to keep Soviet dissidents. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, it has been used by the agency’s successor to isolate opponents of the Kremlin.
Mr. Melnikov said that Mr. Gershkovich had appeared cheerful and made jokes. And he was reading “Life and Fate,” a book by Vasily Grossman written in 1959 and set in Stalinist Russia during World War II.
Anushka Patil contributed reporting.