US seeks to contact citizen arrested in Russia, says Blinken

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Monday (June 12 that Washington is seeking to learn more about the detention of US citizen Michael Travis Leake, 51, in Russia and working to get consular access to the musician and former paratrooper.

The US musician and former paratrooper has been arrested in Moscow on drug dealing charges and his court appearance, locked in a metal cage, has been shown on Russian state television.

“Seeking to learn more about the apparent detention of Travis Leake. And we are working to be not only in in touch with him and have consular access, but also with his family. My number one priority as secretary of state is the safety and security of Americans abroad. And this is this is no exception. So we’re working to gather information to understand exactly what happened,” Blinken said.

A US State Department spokesperson confirmed that Leake was detained in Moscow, adding that officials from the US embassy there attended his arraignment on June 10.

Russia’s Interfax news agency reported that if found guilty, Leake could face up to 12 years in prison.

“Concerns about whether any actions we take might further incentivize countries to engage in this practice. But that’s why, even as we’ve been doing this, we’ve been imposing penalties, imposing sanctions, including under the Robert Levinson Act, to disincentivize countries from engaging in this practice. At the same time, we’re working more and more closely together with other countries that unfortunately are similarly situated to us,” Blinken said.

When Leake initially came to Moscow, he worked as an English teacher and helped translate songs for Russian bands.

Since the war in Ukraine began in February last year the United States has repeatedly told its citizens to leave Russia due to the risk of arbitrary arrest or harassment by Russian law enforcement agencies.

Last December, US basketball star Brittney Griner was released in a prisoner swap, having been sentenced to nine years in a penal colony for possessing vape cartridges containing cannabis oil – which is banned in Russia – after a judicial process labeled a sham by Washington.

Paul Whelan, a former US Marine, is serving a 16-year sentence in a Russian penal colony after being convicted of espionage charges that Washington also says are a sham.

Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, a US citizen, was arrested in March on espionage charges that he, the Journal and Washington deny.

Source: Reuters