Navy nuclear technician veteran released by Russia after 9-month detention

Taylor Dudley, a U.S. Navy veteran detained in Russia since April, 2022, was released on January 12, 2023. Source: Jonathan Franks/Twitter

Riley Beggin

The Detroit News

(TNS)

WASHINGTON — A Lansing, Michigan, man and Navy veteran who was detained by Russian authorities for nine months was released Thursday, according to his family’s spokesperson.

Taylor Dudley, 35, was backpacking in Europe and traveled to Poland for a music festival before crossing the border into Russia in April 2022, spokesperson Jonathan Franks said. He first traveled to Europe to “seek inspiration for a potential book,” Franks said, but it is not clear why he went to Russia.

Dudley had been held in Kaliningrand, a noncontiguous Russian province on the Baltic Sea, while former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and his non-profit, the Richardson Center for Global Engagement, negotiated with Russian “counterparts and conduits” in Moscow and Kaliningrad, per a statement from the Richardson Center.

Russian authorities released Dudley at the Russia-Poland Bagrationovsk-Bezledy border crossing Thursday morning to Richardson and a representative from the U.S. Embassy in Warsaw. Dudley, his mother Shelley, Richardson and others are flying from Poland to Virginia from Thursday to Friday.

Dudley’s release comes as tensions between the United States and Russia remain high over the Kremlin’s war in Ukraine.

The Richardson Center worked toward his release “diligently and quietly” for more than six months, Franks said, with help from the Steve Menzies Global Foundation, Hostage U.S. and the James Foley Foundation.

“The family will be forever grateful for the work of all three,” Franks said. “The past 9 months have been difficult ones for the family, and they ask the media to respect their privacy and give them the space to welcome Taylor home.”

According to Dudley’s service record, he enlisted in the Navy in September 2007 and attended Nuclear Field “A” School in Charleston, South Carolina before being discharged as a seaman apprentice in March 2008. 

U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin, D-Lansing, hailed Dudley’s release Thursday in a Twitter post.

“I couldn’t be happier with today’s news that Taylor Dudley has been released from Russian custody & is coming home,” Slotkin wrote. “I’m deeply grateful to everyone who had a hand in making this day a reality, and ask you to join me in sending your thoughts & well wishes to Taylor & his family.”

The U.S. did not make an exchange in return for Dudley, CNN reported.

In a separate statement, Richardson also thanked Menzies as well as Armenian businessman Ara Abramyan and international investor Vitaly Pruss, who also reportedly helped with the release of WNBA star Brittney Griner.

“It is significant that despite the current environment between our two countries, the Russian authorities did the right thing by releasing Taylor today,” Richardson said. “And as we celebrate Taylor’s safe return, we remain very concerned for Paul Whelan and committed to continue to work on his safe return, as we have been for the last four years, as well as other Americans.”

Whelan, a former U.S. Marine and corporate security director from Novi with a Michigan-based auto supplier, has been in Russian custody since December 2018 when he was arrested from his Moscow hotel room and charged with espionage, which he has denied.

In 2020, he was sentenced to 16 years in a prison camp. The U.S. government unsuccessfully aimed to include Whelan in a prisoner swap last month, in which they traded Griner for a convicted Russian arms dealer.

In April 2022, federal officials also swapped a Russian drug trafficker for U.S. Marine veteran Trevor Reed. The State Department has pledged to work ceaselessly to bring Whelan home.

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