Russia announced Tuesday it had detained a US national who also holds Russian citizenship on drug charges, as speculation mounts over a potential prisoner swap between Moscow and Washington.
Both the US State Department and Russian President Vladimir Putin have signalled in recent weeks the sides are working towards a possible exchange that could include two high-profile Americans held by Moscow on espionage charges.
A court in Moscow said it was holding in custody Robert Woodland, who was apprehended by law enforcement earlier this month on drug-linked charges.
“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,” it said on social media.
It said the dual national was being held under an article of the criminal code targeting the “illegal acquisition, storage, transportation, manufacture, processing” of drugs that carry a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.
Moscow is holding several American nationals on charges including espionage and “rehabilitating Nazism” as tensions between Russia and the United States balloon over the conflict in Ukraine.
The Interfax news agency, citing law enforcement agencies, said Woodland was in possession of around 4.5 grams of drugs with intent to sell.
Interfax reported that 32-year-old Woodland, who holds two citizenships, was detained with mephedrone, an amphetamine-type drug.
“He did not have time to complete his plan, as he was detained by police officers,” Interfax added.
The US has yet to appeal to the Russian foreign ministry for consular access, state-run agency RIA Novosti meanwhile reported.
Russian authorities have arrested several US citizens in recent years, with critics accusing Moscow of using detainees as bargaining chips to exchange Russians jailed in the United States.
Paul Whelan, an ex-US marine, was sentenced in 2020 to 16 years in jail on spying charges that he denies.
In late March 2023, Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, 32, became the first Western journalist to be held on espionage charges in Russia since the Soviet era.
Gershkovich — who previously worked for AFP — has rejected the spying allegations, as has his employer and the US government.
Putin said last month in his 2023 end-of-year conference that he “hoped” Moscow and Washington would arrive at an arrangement that suited both sides.
The US State Department responded by saying Russia so far has refused all US offers for the release of Gershkovich and Whelan, calling on Putin to negotiate in good faith.
US-Russian dual citizen, journalist Alsu Kurmasheva, was also arrested in October. She has been charged with failing to register as a “foreign agent” and spreading misinformation.
In December 2022, Russia released basketball superstar Brittney Griner in exchange for notorious Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout — known as the “Merchant of Death” –- who had been jailed in the United States.