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Who Are The Americans Still In Jail In Russia

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has put a spotlight on the cases of Americans detained in Russia. While some like WNBA star Brittney Griner have received widespread attention, there are several other Americans still languishing behind bars in Russia. Most have been held for years already under controversial circumstances.

As relations between the U.S. and Russia continue to deteriorate, the fate of these detainees remains uncertain. Their stories serve as sobering reminders of the risks of traveling to or working in countries with hostile relations with the West. This article will provide an overview of the key American detainees still held in Russia.

Key American Detainees

Paul Whelan

Paul Whelan is a former U.S. Marine who was detained at a Moscow hotel in December 2018 and arrested on espionage charges, which he denies. He was convicted in June 2020 and sentenced to 16 years in a maximum-security prison colony.

Whelan’s family maintains his innocence, saying he was simply in Russia for a wedding. They insist the espionage charges were fabricated to use him as a political pawn. The U.S. has denounced his detention as unjustified. Whelan holds American, British, Canadian and Irish citizenship.

Trevor Reed

Trevor Reed is a former U.S. Marine detained in Russia since 2019. He was convicted of assaulting two police officers while drunk and sentenced to nine years in prison. Reed denies the charges, saying any altercation was provoked by the police.

The U.S. contends Reed’s prosecution was unjustified, citing procedural violations and a lack of evidence. His family has expressed concern about his health in the harsh conditions of the Russian penal colony where he is serving his sentence.

Marc Fogel

Marc Fogel is an American teacher who worked at the Anglo-American School of Moscow. He was detained in August 2021 at the airport after arriving on a flight from New York. Fogel was found to have marijuana and charged with “large-scale contraband” of narcotics.

In June 2022 he was convicted and sentenced to 14 years hard labor in a high-security colony. Supporters say the charges were exaggerated and politically motivated. Fogel had taught history and economics in Russia for a decade prior to his arrest.

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Other Notable Cases

While less high-profile, there are several other Americans imprisoned in Russia on charges their families and the U.S. government consider dubious or exaggerated. They include:

  • Taylor Dudley. American businessman jailed since 2019 awaiting trial on fraud charges his lawyers say are fabricated.
  • Alexander Drueke & Andy Huynh. U.S. military veterans captured in Ukraine in June 2022 while fighting with Ukrainian forces. Their status remains uncertain. Russia considers them foreign mercenaries rather than POWs.
  • Tevfik Arif. Russian-born American real estate developer held on corruption charges since 2016 that supporters say were politically motivated.
  • Kamran Manafly. American citizen of Iranian descent detained in Moscow since 2018. Charged with being a ringleader of an international cybercriminal group. He denies the accusations.

Reasons For Detaining Americans

Analysts point to several key reasons why Russia has cracked down on U.S. citizens within its borders:

  • Political Bargaining Chips. Detainees like Paul Whelan are seen as pawns Russia can use as leverage in negotiations with the U.S. Whelan has been floated as a potential exchange for notorious Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.
  • Espionage. Some detainees like Whelan are accused of spying to justify lengthy sentences, despite a lack of evidence. It feeds Russian narratives about foreign intelligence activities.
  • Deterrence. Jailing Americans discourages other U.S. citizens from traveling to or doing business in Russia. This factors into Russia’s broader suspicion of Western influence.
  • Crime Crackdown. While some charges may be exaggerated, Russia has ramped up prosecuting foreigners to appear tough on crime and illegal activities.
  • Retaliation. Holding Americans can be low-level retaliation as tensions with the U.S. mount over issues like Ukraine sanctions, without provoking a major confrontation.

Living Conditions in Russian Prisons

Americans detained in Russia face bleak living conditions in overcrowded penal colonies. Key details on the institutions include:

Prison Location Description
Penal Colony IK-17 Mordovia Isolated high-security labor camp where Paul Whelan is serving his 16-year sentence.
Penal Colony IK-6 Yamalo-Nenets Harsh Arctic Circle prison known for inhumane treatment of inmates.
Pre-Trial Detention Center #5 Moscow Overcrowded facility where Marc Fogel and others await trial or serve short sentences.

Key concerns about Russian prisons include:

  • Scant medical treatment and neglect of health issues
  • Physical and psychological abuse
  • Arbitrary disciplinary actions
  • Poor sanitation, hygiene, food and water
  • Forced labor under strenuous conditions
  • Isolation from outside contact and limited consular access
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These conditions make imprisonment incredibly taxing, putting detainees’ well-being at risk. It adds pressure on the U.S. to seek their release.

Efforts to Free American Detainees

The U.S. government has pursued several avenues to try and free American citizens jailed in Russia:

  • Diplomatic Pressure. Raising detention issues through embassies and public statements to apply political pressure on Russia.
  • Sanctions Threats. Imposing targeted sanctions on Russian officials involved in unjust prosecutions.
  • Prisoner Exchanges. Floating exchange deals like trading Paul Whelan for Russian arms trafficker Viktor Bout.
  • Legal Appeals. Working through Russian courts and filing appeals against convictions, sentences and prison conditions.
  • Direct Outreach. President Biden raised prisoner cases in his June 2022 phone call with Putin. Previous leaders have done the same in engagements with Putin.

However, the deteriorating bilateral relationship has complicated efforts to negotiate detainee releases. And Russia tends to resist anything perceived as western interference in its judicial system. As a result, breakthroughs have been limited thus far despite sustained U.S. efforts.

What was Brittney Griner arrested for in Russia?

WNBA star Brittney Griner was detained at a Moscow airport in February 2022 for allegedly having vape cartridges containing cannabis oil in her luggage. Despite her claims it was an inadvertent mistake, she was convicted on drug charges and sentenced to nine years in prison in August 2022. Her case has drawn major publicity.

Does Russia typically imprison foreigners?

While the number of Americans detained is relatively small, Russia has shown an increasing willingness to imprison foreigners over dubious charges in recent years. Cases often appear politically motivated or intended to enable prisoner swaps. Overall, Russia imprisonment of foreigners remains atypical globally but has grown more common.

How have US-Russia relations impacted detainees?

Deteriorating relations between the US and Russia have made it harder to negotiate detainee releases. Russia is more inclined to use detainees as political bargaining chips amid tensions over issues like Ukraine. And the US has less leverage or goodwill to secure releases with minimal concessions. Detainees end up stuck in the middle of brinksmanship.

Could prisoner swaps free Americans jailed in Russia?

Prisoner swaps represent the most likely path to freeing American detainees. The US and Russia have explored deals involving exchanging prisoners like Paul Whelan for convicted Russian criminals in US custody. But reaching deals has proven complex, as both sides wrestle over the appropriate exchange values and concessions.

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Are other western countries’ citizens also detained?

While Americans account for most high-profile western detainees, citizens of countries like Canada, Britain and Germany have also been imprisoned by Russia over dubious charges. Cases often correlate with periods of increased Russia-West tensions. Canadian citizen Michael Spavor was freed shortly after the Griner deal.

Convictions on Holding Americans

“Unjustly holding Americans captive will not stand. They are political pawns and must be released. Until then, the pressure on Russia should continue mounting.”

  • U.S. Senator Bob Menendez, Chairman of Senate Foreign Relations Committee

“Russia has weaponized their criminal justice system against Paul Whelan. An American citizen is being wrongly held for a crime he didn’t commit.”

  • David Whelan, brother of detainee Paul Whelan

“Our family will continue to work relentlessly to bring our Trevor home. This has gone on for far too long.”

  • Paula Reed, sister of detainee Trevor Reed

“Kamran is an innocent hostage taken by Russia to extract concessions from the US. He should be released immediately.”

  • Hadi Manafly, brother of detainee Kamran Manafly

“If Russia continues to wrongly imprison Mark Fogel, other Americans should break ties with Russia. Business interests never justify dealing with hostage-takers.”

  • Penny Fogel, wife of detainee Marc Fogel

These quotes capture the sense of injustice and urgency driving efforts to free Americans jailed in Russia. Their cases highlight how detention often has little to do with actual crimes and more to do with political motivations. Until releases occur, pressure on Russia is likely to intensify.


The plight of Americans detained in Russia underscores the politicized nature of their cases. Most face dubious charges, harsh conditions, and health risks aimed at advancing Russian political agendas. While some cases have drawn major publicity, several lower-profile detainees remain equally at risk.

Securing releases will require skillful diplomacy and likely concessions by the U.S. But the deteriorating bilateral climate has complicated negotiations so far. These detainees will continue languishing in nightmarish Russian prisons until a diplomatic solution emerges. Their best hope lies in prisoner exchanges, combined with unrelenting pressure on the Kremlin. Until then, responsibility falls on both government officials and ordinary citizens to keep highlighting the urgent need to bring these Americans home.

Prison Inside Team

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Welcome to ‘Prison Inside,’ a blog dedicated to shedding light on the often hidden and misunderstood world within correctional facilities. Through firsthand accounts, personal narratives, and insightful reflections, we delve into the lives of those who find themselves behind bars, offering a unique perspective on the challenges, triumphs, and transformations that unfold within the confines of these walls.

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