The International Press Institute (IPI) today joined calls for Russia to free a Ukrainian journalist detained late last week on charges of espionage, voicing concern that the arrest was a politically motivated move to impact the ongoing conflict between the two countries.

Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) detained Roman Sushchenko, 47, a foreign correspondent for Ukrainian state news agency Ukrinform, upon his arrival in Moscow from Paris on Friday.

According to Ukrinform, Sushchenko had travelled to Russia on a private visit while vacationing in order to visit relatives.

News of his arrest only surfaced after representatives of a human rights group, the Moscow Public Oversight Commission, spotted him on a routine visit to Lefortovo detention centre in Moscow on Sunday. Sushchenko told the activists that he was a journalist accused of spying, but was not allowed to provide further details of the case against him.

On Monday, the FSB said that it had arrested Sushchenko and claimed that he is an officer with the Ukrainian military intelligence. The FSB alleged that Sushchenko was in Russia to collect classified information about Russia’s armed forces and national guard that, if leaked abroad “could do harm to the national defence”. It also said that it had initiated criminal proceedings against him for espionage.

That same day, Moscow’s Lefortovo district court confirmed the journalist’s arrest, saying that it had placed Sushchenko in preliminary detention for two months.

IPI Director of Advocacy and Communications Steven M. Ellis voiced concern that Sushchenko had been arrested “on trumped-up charges and is being used as a pawn by Russia in its ongoing conflict with Ukraine”.

He added: “We call on Russia to release Mr. Sushchenko immediately.”

Ukrinform dismissed the charge against Sushchenko, calling it a “planned provocation” and a breach of international law. The news agency said Sushchenko, who has worked for Ukrinform since 2002 and as its Paris correspondent since 2010, was “a journalist with many years of impeccable reputation”.

Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry called Sushchenko’s arrest “another step in the purposeful policy of the Russian Federation to use Ukrainians, who are in the hands of the authorities, as political hostages in its hybrid aggression against our country”.

Sushchenko’s wife, Anzhela Sushchenko, who said she learned of the journalist’s arrest from Russian media reports, has hired Russian human rights lawyer Mark Feygin to defend Sushchenko in court. Feygin said that he was not allowed to meet with the journalist until late yesterday.