Americans Detained in Russia


Lydia Brady, Reporter

In recent years, several Americans have been wrongfully detained in Russia. These Americans have been imprisoned due to many different accusations, some of them being drug possession, attempted spying, and intention to inflict bodily harm. Several of these people have been given extended sentences, with some lasting around a decade.

One of the more well-known prisoners in Russia is Brittney Griner, a professional basketball player in the WNBA, who was accused of illegal drug possession. She was arrested on February 17 of this year for the possession of cannabis oil after it was found in her luggage when she arrived in Moscow to play for a Russian basketball team since the United States season was over. Griner hurriedly packed her bags for Russia, accidentally bringing the cannabis with her. Although it was medically prescribed for her in Texas, it is considered an administrative crime in Russia to possess any amount of cannabis up to six grams. She was sentenced to nine years in prison, and has recently been moved to a penal colony in order to serve her sentence. 

Paul Whelan, a United States Marine, was arrested in 2018 as he was accused on suspicion of spying. He was sentenced to sixteen years in prison after reports had been released claiming that he received a device containing a list of intelligence officials at a classified security agency. 

The Biden administration attempted to initiate a deal with Russia by exchanging Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer detained in the United States, for both Whelan and Griner. It is likely that the prisoners are being used as political pawns and are being detained by Russia to be used in the future for political favors, such as the relief of current U.S. sanctions. Many people are against the exchange as it would mean the release of Bout, who has an international reputation, nicknamed the “Merchant of Death”. This proposal has been taken seriously by Russia, but they have yet to respond with a positive answer. President Biden believes that he will soon have the chance to speak seriously with Russian President Vladimir Putin about the potential prisoner swap.