- - Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Russian security agents arrest an American journalist. They accuse him of espionage on trumped-up charges and lock him away. U.S. leaders respond with condemnation, demanding the captive’s immediate release.

That describes what happened in March to the Wall Street Journal’s Evan Gershkovich. It also was the predicament that befell Nicholas Daniloff, the last American reporter to be arrested in Russia until now. As an employee of U.S. News and World Report, Mr. Daniloff was nabbed by the KBG and accused of spying in the late summer of 1986. The incident suddenly complicated the Reagan administration’s negotiations with the Kremlin concerning a nuclear arms summit with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, to be held in Iceland.

Mr. Daniloff’s fate was so important to President Reagan that he raised the incident during a major speech at the United Nations on the importance of improving U.S.-Soviet relations and reducing nuclear stockpiles.

“Recently, after the arrest of a Soviet national and U.N. employee accused of espionage in the United States, an American correspondent in Moscow was made the subject of fabricated accusations and trumped-up charges. He was arrested and jailed in a callous disregard of due process and numerous human-rights conventions. In effect, he was taken as a hostage, even threatened with the death penalty,” Reagan said on Sept. 22, 1986, about three weeks after the KGB jailed the American journalist.

In Reagan’s view, the Daniloff case was another example of Soviet disregard for basic human rights and, therefore, an obstacle to world peace. “Nicholas Daniloff is an innocent hostage who should be released. The Soviet Union bears the responsibility for the consequences of its action.”

SEE ALSO: History As It Happens: Reagan’s vision

About a week after the president’s address, on Oct. 1, 1986, Mr. Daniloff was a free man posing for a photo-op outside the White House with his family as the press pool shouted questions at Reagan about the deal that freed the reporter.

What happened between Sept. 22 and Oct. 1? In this episode of History As It Happens, historian Simon Miles, an expert on the late stages of the Cold War, discusses how the U.S. and USSR managed to cooperate even though they were adversaries. Mr. Miles also addresses the terrible state of U.S.-Russia relations today. Will it be possible to negotiate the release of Evan Gershkovich? By mid-1986 Reagan and Gorbachev had a budding rapport. Today, President Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin are hardly speaking.

“A lot of this is understanding the surface-level, almost superficial political element versus understanding what’s going on behind the scenes. And if we drill down into the background of what’s going on between Washington and Moscow in ‘86, it’s not as bad as today, but it’s certainly not these halcyon days of U.S.-Soviet cooperation and friendship that it’s been built up to be of late,” said Mr. Miles, the author of “Engaging the Evil Empire: Washington, Moscow, and the Beginning of the End of the Cold War.”

History As It Happens is available at washingtontimes.com or wherever you find your podcasts.

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