As news circulated about the release of WNBA player Brittney Griner from a Russian penal colony Thursday as part of a prisoner swap for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, reactions from social media and national news pointed to the Biden administration’s inability to secure the release of other Americans like Marc Hilliard Fogel, who has been in Russian custody for the last sixteen months as well as marine Paul Whelan.
Fogel, a 60-year-old American history teacher at schools attended by the children of U.S. diplomats and the global elite in Colombia, Venezuela, Oman, and Malaysia, has been imprisoned in Russia since August 2021.
According to reports, Fogel was arrested at an airport in Moscow for entering the country with a little more than half an ounce of medical marijuana he had been prescribed in the U.S. for chronic pain after numerous injuries and surgeries.
Reports indicate that the Russian authorities charged him with drug possession and alleged that he intended to sell marijuana to his students. While Fogel did not deny trying to bring the medical marijuana into Russia, he asked for leniency.
Russian prosecutors labeled Fogel as a “large-scale” drug dealer intent on selling drugs to his students, and falsely labeled him an employee of the U.S. Embassy. These assertions were repeated in some Western media accounts.
He often awaited trial in crowded, smoke-choked cells, and more recently he has been serving the first weeks of an incomprehensible 14-year sentence handed down by a Russian judge in June.
Some have pointed out that Fogel’s plight is similar to Griner’s case, who like Fogel was arrested for attempting to enter Russia with medical marijuana.
Paul Whelan, a former U.S. Marine is serving a 16-year sentence in Russia for spying.
“I am greatly disappointed that more has not been done to secure my release, especially as the four-year anniversary of my arrest is coming up. I was arrested for a crime that never occurred,” Whelan told CNN in a phone call from the penal colony where he is being held.
“I don’t understand why I’m still sitting here.”
Friends and family members of Whelan and Fogel have gone on national media and talked with news outlets to explain the situation with their loved ones imprisoned, talking about their meetings with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and whether they feel the administration is doing enough.
“There’s a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach that Marc will be left behind,” Jane Fogel said. “It is terrifying. I would hope that President Biden and especially first lady Jill Biden, who is an educator, realize the importance of including Marc in addition to Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan,” said Jane Fogel, wife of Marc Fogel, in July.
Family members of Whelan have also described their thoughts about the ongoing situation with their brother and the administration’s negotiations with Russian officials to secure his release.
Whelan’s sister, Elizabeth, told media outlets that she does not believe her brother knows the extent of the efforts to free him, noting that the family has to be careful what they say because they assume the Russian authorities are listening.
In the past, Whelan has expressed concern that he might not make it back to see his family in America.
“My parents are older; my dog is 14 1/2. If I am stuck here much longer, I am in danger of never seeing any of them again,” he said.
Since the invasion of Ukraine, the Russian government has echoed its criticism against the U.S. and other Western European governments for supporting the Ukrainian people in their efforts to defend against the Russian military.
According to American intelligence sources, Russian troops continue to face mounting casualties while relying on regimes like the Islamic Republic of Iran to supply drones and other military resources to aid their invasion.