Americans Detained in Russia Ahead of Evan Gershkovich Trial

Russia is currently detaining at least a dozen American citizens, including journalists and active duty soldiers.

Here’s a look at some of the best-known Americans currently in detention, why Russia is holding them, and what the United States is doing to secure their release.

Evan Gershkovich, a Wall Street Journal reporter accredited by Russia, was arrested in March 2023 in Yekaterinburg on charges of espionage. The FSB security service accuses him of collecting classified information about Uralvagonzavod, a tank manufacturer. Gershkovich and the Wall Street Journal deny the charges, and the U.S. government has declared him wrongfully detained.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said this month that Washington is actively working to get Gershkovich released but that ongoing talks should be kept confidential.

Gershkovich, 32, has been held in Moscow’s Lefortovo prison since his arrest. His trial is scheduled to begin on June 26 in Yekaterinburg.

Paul Whelan, a former U.S. Marine with U.S., British, Irish, and Canadian citizenship, was arrested in 2018 and sentenced to 16 years for espionage, a charge he denies. Whelan was head of global security for a Michigan-based car parts supplier at the time of his arrest. Russian investigators allege he was a spy for military intelligence and was caught with classified information on a flash drive. Despite speculation, Whelan was not included in a prisoner exchange between the U.S. and Russia in December 2022, which saw U.S. basketball star Brittney Griner traded for Russian arms trafficker Viktor Bout. The U.S. has also designated Whelan as wrongfully detained.

Irina Kurmasheva, a dual U.S.-Russian citizen, is a 47-year-old Prague-based reporter for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), a U.S. government-funded media outlet labeled by Russia as a foreign agent. She was arrested in Kazan in October while visiting her mother. Authorities initially charged her with failing to register as a foreign agent, but later added charges of spreading “fakes” about the Russian army, which could result in up to 15 years in prison. Kurmasheva’s husband has requested the U.S. to declare her wrongfully detained.

Staff Sergeant Trevor Reed, an active duty U.S. soldier stationed in South Korea, was detained in Vladivostok on May 2 on suspicion of stealing $113 from his Russian girlfriend. He was later charged with threatening to kill her during a quarrel. The Pentagon stated that Reed had violated army regulations by traveling to Russia without authorization, having passed through China. In court on Monday, Reed denied threatening his girlfriend, Alexandra Vashchuk, but admitted partial guilt to the theft charge, according to Russian state media. He is expected to appear in court again on Wednesday.

Mark Gilman, a former U.S. Marine, was sentenced to 4.5 years in prison in October 2022 for assaulting a police officer on a train while intoxicated. Gilman, who his lawyers say traveled to Russia to study, told the court he did not recall the incident but had apologized to Russia and the officer.

Alexandra Karelina, a dual U.S.-Russian national, was detained in February on treason charges while visiting family in Yekaterinburg and faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted. The FSB security service accuses the Los Angeles resident of collecting funds for a Ukrainian organization that allegedly supported Ukraine’s army. Her family claims she donated approximately $50 to a New York-based non-profit that provides non-military aid to Ukraine.

Paul Whelan, a former schoolteacher who previously worked at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, is serving a 14-year sentence for drug smuggling after being detained at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport in August 2021 with 17 grams of marijuana in his luggage. He claimed he used it for medical reasons. At the time of his arrest, Fogel, in his early 60s, worked at the now-closed Anglo-American School in Moscow.

Peter Woodland, a U.S. citizen adopted as a child, was detained in January on drug possession charges that could result in a 20-year prison sentence. A Facebook account in his name suggests he was working as an English teacher and lived outside Moscow. A trial date has not yet been set.

Michael Spector, born in Russia and later emigrated to the United States, is currently serving a 3.5-year sentence for bribery. He was charged with espionage last August. Before his 2021 arrest, he served as chairman of the board of Medpolymerprom Group, a company specializing in cancer-treating drugs, according to state media. Spector had admitted to bribing an assistant to a former Russian deputy prime minister.