A few days before I was due to leave Moscow in 1986, at the end of a five-year stint as bureau chief for US News & World Report, says Nicholas Daniloff in The Wall Street Journal, “the KGB arrested me”. I went to meet a friend, “or so I thought”, to say farewell in a park near my flat. A white van I’d noticed earlier pulled up, half a dozen men jumped out, and a heavyset man “threw me forwards, pulled my hands behind my back and snapped handcuffs on my wrists”. Like the Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, who was arrested last week in Siberia, I was accused of being a spy and taken to Lefortovo prison in Moscow – once home to the dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn.
In those days, the moment you arrived in Russia as a foreign correspondent, the KGB opened a file and kept tabs on you at all times. They gathered information about where you went, who you saw, “if you were gay”, or any other detail that could be used against you if needed. “I assume the practice continues today.” There were “closed” zones to which you couldn’t travel; your apartment was bugged, so we held all sensitive conversations outside, “even when the temperature was below zero”. We used to joke that in Russia, “burping was enough to get you arrested”. Thankfully, I was released in a prisoner swap after a month of incarceration. So to Gershkovich, I say: “Courage”.