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31 Mar, 2022 20:44

US tells citizens in Russia and Ukraine to leave immediately

State Department says Russia is targeting Americans after basketball star is jailed on drug charges
US tells citizens in Russia and Ukraine to leave immediately

All Americans currently in Russia and Ukraine should leave right away, as they may be singled out by Russian security officials on account of their citizenship, the State Department said on Thursday. 

“All US citizens in Russia and Ukraine should depart immediately,” State Department spokesman Ned Price announced at the daily press briefing at Foggy Bottom. 

Price said the US travel advisories have been updated to reflect “reports” that Russian security officials have “singled out and detained” US citizens, both in Ukraine and in Russia itself.

In addition, Price claimed the US has seen Russian President Vladimir Putin “denigrate equality, free speech and human rights for all.”

While the State Department travel advisory for Russia was updated on Wednesday, urging American citizens residing or traveling in the country to leave right away, the one for Ukraine was last updated on March 29 and still urges Americans there only to register with the US embassy.

The Russia advisory cites the “invasion of Ukraine” as the chief reason. Both Russia and Ukraine have been under the “Level 4 – Do Not Travel” US advisory for over a year, on account of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

In his introductory remarks, Price did not elaborate on “reports” that led the US government to announce the change. The only American known to have been detained by Russian authorities in recent weeks is the WNBA basketball star Brittney Griner. 

Griner was arrested on February 17 – a week prior to the escalation of hostilities in Ukraine – at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport, for possession of illegal narcotics. A drug-sniffing dog alerted to her luggage and police found carrying cannabis oil cartridges for a vaporizer inhaler, according to the Russian police. Griner has been charged with drug smuggling, and a court ordered her held in jail until May 19.