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Russia says it's detained U.S. citizen Robert Woodland on drug charges that carry possible 20-year sentence

Paul Whelan pleads with Biden to secure release
Paul Whelan, imprisoned in Russia, issues plea to Biden: "He's the man that can bring me home" 02:12

Russia has detained and brought drug-related charges that carry a potential 20-year prison sentence against a U.S. citizen identified as Robert Romanov Woodland, a Moscow court said Tuesday.

"On January 6, the Ostankinsky District Court of Moscow ordered Robert Romanov Woodland to be placed in detention for a period of two months, until March 5, 2024," the court said in a post on social media, adding that he had been detained earlier in January and was accused of various narcotics-linked offenses.

The Reuters news agency cited Russian news website Mash as reporting that Woodland, 32, was taken into custody on Jan. 5 and charged with attempted large-scale production and sale of illegal drugs.

Robert Woodland, who was interviewed by Russian media in 2020, is seen in a Facebook profile photo. Facebook

There was no immediate comment from the U.S. State Department.

In 2020, Woodland was interviewed by Russia's Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper. He spoke of his decision to return to the country where he said he was born after living with a foster family in the U.S. for most of his life. He said that at the age of 26, he decided to return to Russia to try to track down his biological mother. 

Facebook and Instagram accounts bearing the name Robert Woodland and appearing to be the same man indicate that he was working as an English teacher, living outside Moscow. From the profiles and the Pravda interview, it appears that Woodland is likely a dual Russian and U.S. citizen. There were no new posts on either of the social media accounts during the last year. 

Evan Gershkovich, left, and Paul Whelan
Evan Gershkovich, left, and Paul Whelan are currently detained in Russia on espionage charges that the U.S. says are unfounded. The Wall Street Journal; Sofia Sandurskaya/AP

Moscow is holding at least two other U.S. nationals, Marine Corps veteran Paul Whelan and Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, both of whom the State Department says are being wrongfully detained.

In his customary end-of-year news conference in December, Russian President Vladimir Putin said his government was engaged in talks with the U.S. over the men's fate, and that he hoped to "find a solution," though "it's not easy."

The U.S. has negotiated prisoner swaps with Russia in the past, including the high-profile 2022 deal that saw basketball star Brittney Griner freed by Moscow in exchange for the U.S. releasing arms dealer Viktor Bout, whose illicit deeds earned him the nickname "the Merchant of Death." 

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