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US warns Russia is unjustly detaining Americans, says ‘do not travel’

Police in Moscow, Russia. (Photo by Pulux11, Wikimedia Commons/Released)
March 30, 2022

The U.S. Embassy in Moscow issued a warning to U.S. citizens on Tuesday to avoid traveling to Russia after Russian security services have “arrested U.S. citizens on spurious charges.

The U.S. embassy raised its Russia travel advisory to Level 4 “Do Not Travel” status “due to the unprovoked and unjustified invasion of Ukraine by Russian military forces, the potential for harassment against U.S. citizens by Russian government security officials, the singling out of U.S. citizens in Russia by Russian government security officials including for detention, the arbitrary enforcement of local law.”

The U.S. advisory said, “Russian security services have arrested U.S. citizens on spurious charges, singled out U.S. citizens in Russia for detention and/or harassment, denied them fair and transparent treatment, and have convicted them in secret trials and/or without presenting credible evidence.”

Last month, Russian authorities arrested U.S. Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) player Brittney Griner after vape cartridges were allegedly found in her luggage. Russian authorities have since extended her detention until at least May 19.

“Russian officials may unreasonably delay U.S. consular assistance to detained U.S. citizens,” the travel advisory added. “Russian authorities arbitrarily enforce local laws against U.S. citizen religious workers and open questionable criminal investigations against U.S. citizens engaged in religious activity. Russian security services are increasing the arbitrary enforcement of local laws to target foreign and international organizations they consider ‘undesirable,’ and U.S. citizens should avoid travel to Russia to perform work for or volunteer with non-governmental organizations.  Russian authorities may not notify the U.S. Embassy of the detention of a U.S. citizen, and consular access to detainees may be denied or severely delayed.”

The embassy said its concerns about Americans in Russia are further elevated by the limited number of flights into and out of Russia and the embassy’s limited ability to assist Americans once inside Russia.

“Limited commercial flight options and overland routes by car and bus are still open and available,” the advisory added. “If you wish to depart Russia, you should make arrangements on your own as soon as possible. The U.S. Embassy has severe limitations on its ability to assist U.S. citizens, and conditions, including transportation options, may suddenly become even more limited.”

Americans in Russia will also struggle to access funds because their “credit and debit cards no longer work in Russia, and options to electronically transfer funds from the United States are extremely limited as a result of sanctions imposed on Russian banks.”

The advisory also warned Americans to specifically avoid the North Caucuses region of Russia, including Chechnya and Mount Elbrus, due to terrorism and kidnapping concerns. Chechen forces, under the direction of leader Ramzan Kadyrov, have been fighting on the Russian side in the ongoing war in Ukraine.