US man detained by Russia on charges of drug trafficking

A US citizen has been apprehended in Russia on charges of drug trafficking, bringing the total number of Americans held by Russian authorities in Moscow to at least three amid escalating tensions over the Ukraine conflict.

Robert Romanov Woodland, aged 32, was arrested on January 5th and could face a 20-year jail term if found guilty, according to reports from the Russian news website Mash.

Woodland is currently being held in detention until March 5th by a district court in the northern Moscow suburb of Ostankino, which has accused him of attempted large-scale production and sale of illicit drugs.

No further details are currently available, and both the US state department and US embassy in Moscow have not yet commented on the situation. However, it is expected that Secretary of State Antony Blinken will address the arrest during a press conference later today.

Russian media sources have indicated that the name of the detained individual matches that of an American citizen who was interviewed by the newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda in 2020. According to the interview, the man was born in Russia’s Perm region in the Ural mountains in 1991 and was adopted by an American couple when he was two years old. He later returned to Russia to search for his biological mother and decided to settle in the town of Dolgoprudny, located 15 miles north of central Moscow. The man claimed to work as an English teacher at a local school.

The arrest of Woodland coincides with strained relations between the US and Russia due to the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. Last month, efforts by the Biden administration to secure the release of two other Americans imprisoned in Russia, journalist Evan Gershkovich of The Wall Street Journal and former marine Paul Whelan, were met with rejection. Analysts are concerned that the detention of Woodland signifies that these individuals may be held as bargaining chips.

In December 2022, Russia released American basketball player Brittney Griner, who had been imprisoned for nearly 10 months on drug-related charges, in exchange for notorious arms dealer Viktor Bout, also known as the “Merchant of Death,” who had been detained in a US prison for 12 years. At the time, President Joe Biden expressed regret that Whelan, a 53-year-old corporate security executive from Michigan who has been serving a 16-year sentence on espionage charges since 2018, was not included in the deal. Whelan has repeatedly stated that the charges against him are false and has expressed feeling “abandoned and betrayed” by the US.

Russian President Vladimir Putin announced last month that his government had engaged in discussions with the US regarding the two detainees and expressed hopes of reaching a resolution.

Gershkovich, aged 32, is the first American journalist to be held in Russia on espionage charges since the end of the Cold War. He was arrested in the city of Ekaterinburg in the Urals during a reporting trip in March 2023 and has remained incarcerated since then. Similar to Woodland, he could face a 20-year prison sentence if convicted. No trial date has been set, and the US government has declared his detention to be unjust.

Reporting by Reuters and the Associated Press

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