A Tale of Two Spies: Did Putin’s FSB Arrest WSJ Journalist Evan Gershkovich as Payback for Sergey Cherkasov?

A Russian GRU operative posing as a Brazilian student in the U.S. was arrested, after the FBI and the CIA kept tabs on him for years. Moscow retaliated and detained American journalist Evan Gershkovich on trumped-up charges of espionage.

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In this episode we discuss the specifics of Sergey Cherkasov’s arrest: Sergey is a Russian spy, an illegal, arrested by the Danish authorities in Brazil. If you like our content, please become a patron to get all our episodes ad-free.

Cherkasov’s legend – a made-up bio created by the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence service – presented him as Victor Muller Ferreira, a Brazilian student in his late 20s. In reality, Sergey is 33 and a spy. Using fake documents, he managed to obtain a post graduate diploma from John Hopkins University. He then was offered a junior analyst position at the International Criminal Court, the same institution that recently issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin, accusing him of war crimes in Ukraine. The CIA and the FBI had been keeping tabs on him for a while, so he was arrested in Brazil in April 2022 and will spend the next 15 years in prison. 1

The Russian spy story broke on March 26 in The Guardian, and just 4 days later, on March 30, 2023, the Wall Street Journal reporter was arrested near Moscow. Not a coincidence, this was probably payback for the public embarrassment the Russian intelligence services are facing after a very sloppy operative they trained was caught. 2

Evan Gershkovich, a thirty-one-year-old reporter for the Wall Street Journal is the son of Soviet-born émigrés who came to the U.S. in the late seventies. He was detained while on a reporting trip to Yekaterinburg, a city 800 miles east of Moscow. The next day, he was brought to Moscow, formally charged with espionage in a closed hearing, and ordered to be held in Lefortovo Prison awaiting trial. Evan Gershkovich is accredited to work as a journalist in Russia by the country’s foreign ministry. 3

1. Greg Miller. He came to D.C. as a Brazilian student. The U.S. says he was a Russian spy.. The Washington Post. March 2023. 

2. Joshua Yaffa. The Unimaginable Horror of a Friend’s Arrest in Moscow. The New Yorker. March 2023. 

3. Daniel Michaels, Vivian Salama, and Jared Malsin. White House Condemns Russia’s Detention of Wall Street Journal Reporter. The Wall Street Journal. March 2023. 

4. Greg Botelho. Dangerous diplomacy: A look at U.S. diplomats killed in the line of duty. CNN. March 2015. 

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