Russian Court Sentences U.S. Soldier To Prison For Theft, Threat

The Supreme Court of Russia’s Republic of Tatarstan has rejected an appeal by RFE/RL journalist Alsu Kurmasheva against a decision to extend her pretrial detention.

Judge Rizvan Yusupov on June 18 upheld last month’s decision by the Soviet district court in Tatarstan’s capital, Kazan, to extend her pretrial detention until at least August 5.

Kurmasheva, a Prague-based journalist with RFE/RL who holds dual U.S. and Russian citizenships, has been held in Russian custody since October 18, 2023, on a charge of violating the so-called “foreign agent” law and distributing false information about Russia’s military, a charge that could lead to a 10-year prison sentence. She, her employer, and her supporters reject the charges.

During the last hearing on May 31, Kurmasheva said that her health had deteriorated and that she needs surgery. She also said that the last time she heard the voices of her two daughters was in October 2023.

Kurmasheva, who has worked for RFE/RL’s Tatar-Bashkir Service for some 25 years, left the Czech capital in mid-May 2023 because of a family emergency in her native Tatarstan.

She was briefly detained while waiting for her return flight on June 2, 2023, at the Kazan airport, where both of her passports and phone were confiscated. After five months waiting for a decision in her case, Kurmasheva was fined 10,000 rubles ($112) for failing to register her U.S. passport with Russian authorities.

Unable to leave Russia without her travel documents, Kurmasheva was detained again in October and this time charged with failure to register as a “foreign agent.” Two months later, she was charged with spreading falsehoods about the Russian military.

The U.S. government and RFE/RL say the charges are punishment for Kurmasheva’s work as a journalist for RFE/RL.

On June 17, U.S. State department spokesman Mathew Miller reiterated previous statements by senior U.S. officials, including President Joe Biden, that called on Russia to immediately release Kurmasheva.

He did not, however, elaborate on why Washington has yet to designate Kurmasheva as “wrongfully detained,” a designation that would raise the profile of the case against Kurmasheva, effectively labeling it as politically motivated. Two other U.S. citizens held by Russia — Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich and former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan — have been designated as wrongfully detained.

“We believe that she should be released,” Miller said when asked about recognizing Kurmasheva as “wrongfully detained.” “I can’t speak to a formal determination at this time. But we’ve been pretty clear about the status of her case and what we think about it.”

Miller also expressed concern over Russia’s decision to try Gershkovich for alleged espionage in a closed trial, emphasizing that U.S. Embassy representatives will still try to attend the court hearing scheduled for later this month.

Miller said attending was a “high priority for us” but that “ultimately we’re going to try to bring [Gershkovich] home and we’re going to try to bring [fellow detained American] Paul Whelan home, and that continues to be our overriding goal.”

Russian authorities have not provided any evidence to support the espionage charges against 32-year-old Gershkovich, which The Wall Street Journal and the U.S. government have vehemently rejected. He could face up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

Russian officials said this week that Gershkovich’s espionage trial in a court in Yekaterinburg would take place behind closed doors beginning on June 26. Gershkovich was initially arrested during a reporting trip to that Urals city in March 2023.

U.S. journalist Evan Gershkovich looks out from inside a defendants' cage before a hearing at the Moscow City Court on February 20.

U.S. journalist Evan Gershkovich looks out from inside a defendants’ cage before a hearing at the Moscow City Court on February 20.

“We will try to attend the trial, as we try to attend the trial of any American citizens who are detained in Russia. But ultimately, I don’t have an answer for you yet whether that’s going to be possible,” Miller said.

“Charges against him are completely bogus, as we have made clear, and we believe the Russian government knows that they are completely bogus. That said, we’re going to continue to try to bring him home,” he added.

Analysts and Western officials accuse Russia of targeting U.S. citizens for detention for potential use in prisoner exchanges or for other geopolitical purposes.

Russia is believed to be seeking the release of Vadim Krasikov, who is serving a life sentence in Germany for the 2019 killing of Zelimkhan “Tornike” Khangoshvili, a Georgian citizen of Chechen descent who had fought Russian troops in Chechnya and later claimed asylum in Germany.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, asked in February about releasing Gershkovich, appeared to refer to Krasikov by pointing to a man imprisoned by a U.S. ally for “liquidating a bandit” who had allegedly killed Russian soldiers in Chechnya.

With reporting by Current Time

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