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Russia has arrested a U.S. citizen on alleged drug charges

Robert Woodland Romanov speaks to a journalist during his interview with <em>Komsomolskaya Pravda</em> newspaper in Moscow, in December 2020.
Anastasia Vardanyan
Komsomolskaya Pravda via AP
Robert Woodland Romanov speaks to a journalist during his interview with Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper in Moscow, in December 2020.

Updated January 9, 2024 at 4:19 PM ET

MOSCOW (AP) — A U.S. citizen has been arrested on drug charges in Russia, officials said Tuesday, a move that comes amid soaring Russia-U.S. tensions over Ukraine.

The arrest of Robert Woodland Romanov was reported by the press service of the Moscow courts. It said the Ostankino District Court ruled on Saturday to keep him in custody for two months on charges of preparing to get involved in illegal drug trafficking pending an official investigation. It didn't offer any details of the accusations.

The U.S. State Department said it was aware of reports of the recent detention of a U.S. citizen and noted that it "has no greater priority than the safety and security of U.S. citizens overseas," but refrained from further comment, citing privacy considerations. The U.S. Embassy in Moscow issued a similar statement.

Russian media noted that the name of the accused matches that of a U.S. citizen interviewed by the popular daily Komsomolskaya Pravda in 2020.

In the interview, the man said that he was born in the Perm region in the Ural Mountains in 1991 and adopted by an American couple when he was two. He said that he traveled to Russia to find his Russian mother and eventually met her in a TV show in Moscow.

The man told Komsomolskaya Pravda that he liked living in Russia and decided to move there. The newspaper reported that he settled in the town of Dolgoprudny just outside Moscow and was working as an English teacher at a local school.

The news about the arrest come as Washington has sought to win the release of jailed Americans Paul Whelan and Evan Gershkovich. The State Department said last month that it had put multiple offers on the table, but they had been rejected by the Russian government.

Gershkovich, a Wall Street Journal reporter, was detained in March while on a reporting trip to the Russian city of Yekaterinburg, about 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles) east of Moscow. He has remained behind bars ever since on espionage accusations that he and the Journal have denied. The U.S. government has declared him to be wrongfully detained.

Whelan, a corporate security executive from Michigan, has been jailed in Russia since his December 2018 arrest on espionage-related charges that both he and the U.S. government dispute. He was sentenced to 16 years in prison.

Analysts have pointed out that Moscow could be using jailed Americans as bargaining chips amid U.S.-Russian tensions that soared when Russia sent troops into Ukraine. At least two U.S. citizens arrested in Russia in recent years — including WNBA star Brittney Griner — have been exchanged for Russians jailed in the U.S.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

The Associated Press
[Copyright 2024 NPR]