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Brittney Griner is Free, But Another American Remains Locked Up in Russia for Pot

Brittney Griner has returned to America after ten months spent in Russian custody for drug-related charges. However, other U.S citizens still remain in Russia. This includes a 61-year old man who is being held similar to Griner. 

PoliticoPublished a story on Marc Fogel last week. He was taken into custody last year by Russian authorities after they found that he had medical marijuana. 

“Fogel’s case bears a striking similarity to Griner’s, which has captured national headlines since the WNBA star was detained in Russia in February 2022. Like Griner, Fogel — a 61-year-old history teacher from Pennsylvania who lived in Russia while teaching at the Anglo-American School in Moscow — was taken into custody by Russian authorities in August 2021 after customs officials at a Russian airport discovered around half an ounce of medical marijuana stashed in his luggage,” Politico reported. 

“The drugs had been prescribed to him by doctors in the U.S. to help treat chronic pain stemming from a series of injuries and operations, but Fogel’s reasons didn’t matter. In June 2022, Fogel was convicted by a Russian court of drug trafficking and sentenced to 14 years imprisonment. In October, Fogel was transferred from a Moscow detention center to one of Russia’s notorious penal colonies, where he is slated to serve the remainder of his sentence,” the outlet continued. 

Griner, a perennial all-star for the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury and one of the most decorated women’s basketball players ever, was released last week after U.S. and Russian officials negotiated a prisoner swap. Griner was freed in exchange for Viktor Bout’s release. Bout had been a Russian arms dealer serving a 25-year sentence in America.

The deal drew some criticism from those who lamented the release of Bout, nicknamed the “Merchant of Death.” There was also disappointment that the U.S. was unable to also secure the release of Paul Whelan, a U.S. citizen who has been detained by Russia since 2018 on espionage charges.

U.S. officials sought a two-for-one deal –– Griner and Whelan in exchange for Bout –– but such an arrangement never materialized.

“We’ve not forgotten about Paul Whelan,” President Joe Biden said last week following Griner’s release. 

Griner was taken into custody at the Russian airport on February 2nd after she had a tiny amount of cannabis oil found in her baggage. Although she pleaded guilty, Griner said that she didn’t intend to offend the law. A Russian court found her guilty in August and sentenced her for nine years imprisonment. 

Griner’s detention attracted international attention, and emerged as a diplomatic standoff between the United States and Russia. Foley’s case, meanwhile, has flown decidedly under the radar. 

“The State Department has not granted him “wrongfully detained” status, despite repeated appeals from a bipartisan group of lawmakers and Fogel’s lawyers. (A spokesperson for the State Department declined to comment on the specifics of Fogel’s case, saying: “The Department continuously reviews the circumstances surrounding the detentions of U.S. nationals overseas, including those in Russia, for indicators that they are wrongful.”) In the media, Fogel’s detention has been overshadowed by the coverage of Griner and Paul Whelan, an American businessman and former Marine who has been held in Russia since 2018 on espionage charges,” PoliticoReport last week.

“It’s a bit mysterious to me why we [aren’t] talking about three Americans — now, thankfully, two Americans — instead of just one,” said Michael McFaul, the former U.S. ambassador to Russia, told Politico. “He’s not just some random guy that got arrested — he was part of our community … He taught our kids, the kids of U.S. government officials and he taught our military’s kids.”