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Who Was Recently Released From Russian Prison?

Over the past few years, several high-profile prisoners have been released from Russian prisons and penal colonies. While some were part of prisoner exchanges between Russia and other countries, others finished their sentences or were granted early release. Here is an overview of some of the most notable people released from Russian prisons in recent years:

A Look at Major Prisoner Releases Since 2020

The table below summarizes some of the major prisoner releases from Russia since 2020:

NameBackgroundDate ReleasedReason for Release
Paul WhelanAmerican arrested in 2018 and accused of espionageDecember 2022Part of prisoner exchange
Brittney GrinerAmerican basketball player detained in 2022December 2022Part of prisoner exchange
Trevor ReedAmerican student detained in 2019April 2022Part of prisoner exchange
Vladimir KamkovRussian pilot convicted of heroin smugglingNovember 2022Part of prisoner exchange
Viktor BoutRussian arms dealer serving 25 year sentenceDecember 2022Part of prisoner exchange
Ivan SafronovRussian journalist accused of treasonSeptember 2022Released pending trial

As the table shows, prisoner swaps and releases often coincide with periods of heightened geopolitical tensions between Russia and other nations like the United States. The detainees released are sometimes viewed as potential bargaining chips.

What Major Convicts Were Freed in Russia’s 2022 Prisoner Exchange with the US?

In December 2022, Russia and the United States conducted a high-profile prisoner swap, exchanging Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan from American custody for the release of Viktor Bout from US prison.

Brittney Griner is an American professional basketball player who was detained in Russia in February 2022 on drug charges. She was sentenced to 9 years in prison in August 2022 after Russian authorities said she had vape cartridges containing cannabis oil in her luggage at a Moscow airport. Her detention was widely seen as politically motivated.

Paul Whelan is an American citizen who was detained by Russian authorities in December 2018 on allegations of espionage. He was sentenced to 16 years in prison in June 2020, though he maintains his innocence.

Viktor Bout is a Russian arms dealer who was serving a 25 year sentence in the US on charges of conspiracy to kill Americans, deliver weapons to a terrorist organization, and provide material support to a terrorist organization. Known as the “Merchant of Death,” he had been imprisoned in the US since 2008 after being extradited from Thailand.

The prisoner exchange freed Griner and Whelan from Russian prisons, while securing Bout’s release from American custody. The swap reflects ongoing tensions but also efforts to deescalate conflict between the US and Russia.

What Major Convicts Were Exchanged Between Russia and Ukraine Earlier in 2022?

While Russia’s prisoner exchange with the US gained global attention, an important prisoner swap also took place earlier in 2022 between Russia and Ukraine as part of the conflict between those nations.

In September 2022, Russia freed 215 Ukrainian prisoners while Ukraine released 55 Russian prisoners and pro-Russian Ukrainian politician Viktor Medvedchuk.

Some of the major Ukrainian prisoners freed by Russia included:

  • Aiden Aslin – British citizen who fought for Ukraine and was sentenced to death by Russian proxies
  • Svyatoslav Palamar – Deputy commander of the Azov Regiment who defended the Azovstal plant in Mariupol
  • Denys Prokopenko – Commander of the Azov Regiment
  • Yuliia Paievska – Ukrainian medic better known as “Taira” who recorded atrocities in Mariupol
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Major Russian prisoners returned home in the exchange included:

  • Viktor Medvedchuk – Ukrainian oligarch and politician close to Vladimir Putin
  • Vladimir Tsemakh – Pro-Russian separatist linked to downing of MH17 flight in 2014
  • Maxim Odintsov – Russian soldier accused of war crimes in Bucha

The exchange offered both sides a chance to free key prisoners amid the ongoing crisis. Negotiations for prisoner swaps have been tense but continue periodically.

Have Any American Detainees Been Newly Taken Prisoner in Russia in ?

While some American detainees like Griner and Whelan have been released, tensions between the US and Russia persist. In 2022, Russia detained two additional Americans on allegations of espionage and illegal border crossing:

Marc Fogel

  • School teacher arrested in August 2021 at airport in Moscow
  • Sentenced to 14 years in prison for allegedly smuggling cannabis
  • US State Department has labeled charges against him as being politically motivated

Taylor Dudley

  • Michigan soldier and student arrested crossing the border from Poland into Russia in April 2022
  • Currently stands accused of espionage which he denies
  • Faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted

The US maintains that both Fogel and Dudley have been wrongfully detained and continues to attempt to negotiate for their release as tensions with Russia remain elevated over the war in Ukraine. However, securing additional prisoner exchanges could prove challenging in the current political climate.

What Major Russian Opposition Figures Were Moved Out of Prison to House Arrest?

In addition to prisoner releases, some prominent political opponents of the Kremlin have been transferred to house arrest in recent years after initially being imprisoned. Here are two major examples:

Alexei Navalny – Leading opposition activist and anti-corruption campaigner. Arrested in January 2021 upon returning to Russia from Germany following recovery after being poisoned. Was serving 2.5 year sentence until moved to house arrest in May 2022.

Vladimir Putin – Former mayor of Yekaterinburg and critic of Putin. Served under house arrest from July 2020 before being jailed in February 2021 on embezzlement charges widely believed to be politically motivated. Returned to house arrest in September 2022.

While still restricted, house arrest grants more freedoms and better conditions than Russian prisons, which are notorious for poor treatment of political prisoners and dissenters. However, releases to house arrest likely do not indicate softening stances toward dissent by Russian authorities.

What Major Convicts Could Potentially Be Exchanged or Released Next?

With prisoner exchanges emerging as a diplomatic tool between Russia, the US, and Ukraine, there is speculation about what other major convicts from each country could potentially be negotiated for. Based on prominent detainees still held on various charges, here are some of the names that come up:

From Russia

  • Ivan Safronov – Former journalist detained in 2020 and accused of treason for sharing confidential information with the Czech Republic. His trial is ongoing.
  • Alexander Gabyshev – Siberian shaman arrested in 2019 during an attempted exorcism trek to “banish Putin.” Sentenced to forced psychiatric treatment.
  • Vladimir Kara-Murza Jr. – Opposition activist jailed in April 2022 for allegedly spreading “false information” about the Russian army. Prior suspected poisonings.
  • Aleksei Gorinov – Moscow politician sentenced to 7 years in prison for criticizing the Ukraine invasion.

From Ukraine

  • Viktor Medvedchuk – Recently swapped but Putin ally and Ukrainian oligarch accused of treason. Still faces other charges.
  • Volodymyr Tsemakh – Exchanged to Russia but linked to downing of flight MH17. Ukraine still seeks his capture.
  • Kirill Vyshinsky – Editor at Russian state owned news agency RIA Novosti. Held by Ukraine since 2018 but released to house arrest.
  • Viktor Yanukovych – Former pro-Russian president of Ukraine who fled during Euromaidan protests in 2014. Now in Russia.

From the United States

  • Konstantin Yaroshenko – Russian pilot arrested in Liberia in 2010 and extradited to the US on drug smuggling charges. Has served over 10 years in prison.
  • Roman Seleznev – Son of Russian parliament member who was sentenced to 27 years in prison in 2017 for running credit card hacking schemes.
  • Viktor Bout’s Crew – Associates of arms dealer Viktor Bout who were indicted and arrested in Thailand alongside him are still jailed in the US.
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Negotiations have not confirmed any of these convicts could be exchanged soon. But the list indicates the types of prisoners each country could angle to free in future talks. Their potential value as bargaining chips keeps their cases in the international spotlight.

What Are the Major Ongoing Trials of Americans Detained in Russia?

While some American detainees like Griner and Whelan were released in late 2022, other US citizens remain on trial in Russia on highly disputed charges often branded as politically motivated:

Marc Fogel

  • American teacher working in Russia arrested in 2021 for alleged cannabis smuggling
  • Denies allegations and says customs officials planted drugs
  • Sentenced in June 2022 to 14 years in a penal colony
  • US has deemed his detainment illegal and trial a “mockery of justice”
  • Appeals trial is still pending

Paul Whelan

  • Ex-marine detained at Moscow hotel in 2018 and arrested for espionage
  • Handed 16 year sentence in 2020 after closed-door trial
  • Maintains innocence saying he was framed while visiting Russia for a wedding
  • Currently in Mordovia penal colony while negotiations continue over his release

Taylor Dudley

  • National guardsman and MBA student arrested illegally crossing the Russian border from Poland
  • Charged with espionage which he denies, faces up to 20 years if convicted
  • Trial has been delayed repeatedly while he remains jailed in Russia
  • US has demanded Russia allow access to Dudley and prove their allegations

The opaque nature of cases like these, which American officials condemn as arbitrary and unjustified, continues to strain US-Russia relations. The outcomes remain uncertain and subject to the turbulent political climate.

What Major Convicts Have Been on Trial or Awaiting Extradition to the US?

While Americans stand trial in Russia, some major Russian convicts and wanted figures have faced legal proceedings in the US and other nations related to charges of cybercrime, money laundering, and international organized crime. Key cases involve:

Alexei Burkov

  • Russian cybercriminal arrested in Israel and extradited to the US in 2019
  • Ran a website for illicit trading of credit card data and counterfeit documents
  • Sentenced in 2020 to 9 years in federal prison and $500,000 fine
  • Russia repeatedly demanded his release and return prior to extradition

Maxim Yakubets

  • Russian hacker charged in absentia by US for involvement in Evil Corp cybercrime group
  • Believed to be in Russia which does not allow extradition of its citizens
  • 10 million dollar reward offered by US State Department for information leading to his arrest
  • Part of broader crackdown on Russian cybercriminals by US authorities

Jabir Moti

  • Affiliate of Russian organized crime group led by suspected assassin Izmailovskaya
  • Extradited from Netherlands to US in 2018 to face extortion and racketeering charges
  • Convicted in 2021 and sentenced to 10 years in federal prison
  • US has increasingly targeted Russian mafia underworld figures abroad

While out of reach in Russia, indicted figures like Yakubets remain vulnerable to arrest if they leave Russia and enter nations willing to execute US extradition requests. Cybercriminals in particular face a global dragnet.

Which Russians Were Convicted in the Mueller Investigation?

Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 US election resulted in charges against several Russian individuals and entities, though their direct connections to the Kremlin remain disputed. Key convictions included:

Internet Research Agency

  • Russian “troll farm” engaged in online influence operations to sow discord in US politics
  • Used fake social media accounts and dishonest political ads to polarize and mislead American voters
  • Indicted for conspiracy against the United States

Konstantin Kilimnik

  • Russian-Ukrainian political consultant and associate of Paul Manafort
  • Allegedly passed Trump campaign polling data to Russian intelligence
  • Charged with obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice

Viktor Borisovich Netyksho

  • Russian military officer accused of hacking Democratic Party computers
  • Believed to have orchestrated breaches of DNC and Clinton campaign servers
  • Indicted along with 12 other Russian GRU officers for computer hacking and fraud

The Mueller report concluded the Russian government interfered extensively in the 2016 election through active measures like hacking and social media manipulation. However, no charges directly tied Putin himself to the election interference.

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Have Any Major Russian Mob Bosses Been Tried in the US?

The US government has made a concerted effort to rein in Russian organized crime activities within the United States. As a result, several notorious bosses and high-ranking members of Russian mob syndicates have faced charges in American courts:

Vyacheslav Ivankov (Yaponchik)

  • Notorious vor v zakone (“thief-in-law”) who arrived in US in 1992
  • Reputed to oversee all Russian gangs in America as head of Russian mafia
  • Arrested in 1995 and convicted of extortion and money laundering
  • Deported to Russia in 2004 after serving a 9 year sentence

Evsei Agron

  • Influential vor who established the Russian mob in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn in the 70s
  • Gunned down by rival gangsters in 1985, sparking bloody mafia war between successors
  • His syndicate later became the powerful Solntsevskaya Bratva crime group

Semion Mogilevich

  • Ukrainian-born boss of powerful crime syndicate dubbed the Red Mafia
  • Alleged to control extensive racketeering operations across Europe and Russia
  • On FBI’s 10 Most Wanted list until removed in 2015 due to lack of US charges against him

These mob kingpins built extensive transnational crime empires stretching across the United States, Russia, and former Soviet republics, trafficking weapons, drugs, and stolen goods. Their prosecutions shed light on the global reach of Russian organized crime.

Are There Any Major Russian Cyber Criminals Who Have Never Faced Trial?

While many prominent cybercriminals like Yakubets and Burkov have faced charges, some remain elusive digital fugitives successfully evading law enforcement globally:

  • Evgeniy Bogachev – Created and operated the GameOver Zeus botnet which infected over 1 million computers. US issued a $3 million reward for his capture but his whereabouts remain unknown.
  • Dmytro Fedorov – Key figure behind hacking organization Maverick Monitor which stole over $100 million from banks and companies. Along with co-founder Volodymyr Drinkman, he is one of FBI’s most wanted cybercriminals.
  • Alexander Vinnik – Russian hacker accused of laundering billions through the defunct BTC-e crypto exchange. Greece delayed his extradition to the US but his trial is still pending.
  • Peter Levashov – Alleged operator of the Kelihos botnet which delivered ransomware and harvested personal data. Was awaiting extradition when charges against him were suddenly dropped.

The quick fortunes generated from cybercrime continue to attract young Russian and Ukrainian hackers who feel they can operate with impunity from countries like Russia that often will not prosecute or extradite them.

Which Major Figures Tied to Putin Have Avoided Prosecution?

Due to the opacity of his inner circle, few individuals definitively tied to Putin’s regime have faced charges either in Russia or internationally. Those high-profile figures close to Putin who have evaded prosecution so far include:

Igor Sechin – CEO of state-owned oil giant Rosneft. Former deputy prime minister under Putin. Known as Russia’s “Darth Vader.”

Sergei Roldugin – Cellist and Putin confidante accused of funneling billions in secret offshore assets for Putin and other oligarchs.

Gennady Timchenko – Billionaire founder of Gunvor, an energy trading firm Putin allegedly profited from.

Yuri Kovalchuk – Known as “Putin’s banker.” His ties to the president helped him expand Bank Rossiya into a US-sanctioned institution serving Kremlin insiders.

Arkady Rotenberg – Putin’s childhood friend who grew exceptionally wealthy winning lucrative state contracts, particularly for the Sochi Olympics.

As a powerful autocrat, Putin has constructed a kleptocratic regime that concentrates wealth and influence among loyalists who support his objectives. This nepotistic inner circle has grown immensely rich.


The imprisonment, release, and exchange of major convicts between Russia and nations like the United States and Ukraine provide insight into the tensions and occasional efforts to deescalate conflict between these powers. Cases often become intertwined with larger geopolitical disputes, especially as relations have deteriorated over issues like Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Prisoner releases likely represent attempts to reduce frictions between battling nations. However, the opacity and suspected political motivations behind many charges and trials feeds ongoing suspicions between both sides. Rapprochement would likely require transparency and accountability around detainee cases that thus far remains elusive.

For Americans jailed in Russia, securing additional releases could depend on US willingness to free more convicted Russian criminals serving time in American prisons. But the extensive indictments and prosecutions related to Russian cybercrime, election interference, and transnational organized crime suggest US authorities remain committed to pursuing such figures in court when possible.

With the Ukraine war raising tensions globally, the coming years may see more convicts and detainees caught in the middle of geopolitical conflict between Russia and Western nations. Their fates seem likely to remain intertwined with the turbulent swings between confrontation and diplomacy defining relations today.

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