Concerns grow over Americans detained in Russia

Published: Mar. 10, 2022 at 9:40 AM PST
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(CNN) - The invasion of Ukraine is impacting efforts to secure the release of three U.S. citizens being held in Russia.

Putin’s attack on Ukraine is making these complicated situations even more difficult.

There are new concerns about the condition of these Americans being detained inside an increasingly isolated Russia, and pressure is mounting for Russian President Vladimir Putin to release them.

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas said she’s working with the Biden administration on the case of American basketball star Brittney Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medalist who Lee said she believes has been held in Russia for about a month on drug-smuggling charges. Authorities in Russia claimed cannabis oil was discovered in her luggage at a Moscow airport.

One of the last pictures of Griner posted before she left for Moscow was from the TWA Hotel at JFK Airport in mid-February.

Four days later, she is not seen in photos of her team’s game.

Analysts told CNN Griner was traveling to Russia to play in a Russian league during the WNBA’s off-season because she can make more money there.

Lee said, “It is clear that Putin chooses to hold American citizens as pawns. … Their lives are in jeopardy. Their health is in jeopardy. We don’t know whether they’ll make it.”

The parents of former U.S. Marine Trevor Reed said they are very worried about his health.

They said their son just called them Wednesday morning and said that he’s been coughing up blood.

“He called and could barely talk,” said Joey Reed, Trevor Reed’s father. “Some sort of accident, and he believes he might have broken a rib. So now he has shooting, stabbing pains in his chest.”

Reed’s family spoke with President Joe Biden by phone Tuesday, and they say the president vowed to do all he can, to get their son out.

Trevor Reed was detained in 2019 and sentenced to prison for endangering the lives of Russian police officers after a night of drinking, Russian authorities say, charges that Reed’s family and U.S. officials deny.

Another former U.S. Marine, Paul Whelan, has been jailed in Russia since 2018 on espionage charges, charges that he and U.S. officials refute.

The Biden team says it’s working for the release of Griner, Reed and Whelan.

With the war in Ukraine raging and tensions boiling between Washington and Moscow, “it’s going to be very difficult. Our diplomatic relationships with Russia are nonexistent at the moment,” said Rep. John Garamendi, D – Texas.

Analyst Phil Mudd said one possible bargaining chip is if the U.S. has Russian prisoners who Putin wants back.

“The question is whether we have enough to trade for three Americans, but a deal’s a deal and Putin is going to be ready to make a deal if we do have Russians that he wants,” he said. “I don’t see why it’s worth avoiding a negotiation just because we’re at war.”

Paul Whelan’s family is asking for his freedom to be part of Russian concessions, for the possible removal of sanctions leveled against Russia.

The White House didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on that detail.

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