Lansing man imprisoned in Russia released after 9 months

Riley Beggin
The Detroit News

Washington — A Lansing 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 nonprofit group, the Richardson Center for Global Engagement, negotiated with Russian "counterparts and conduits" in Moscow and Kaliningrad, according to a statement from the Richardson Center.

Navy veteran Taylor Dudley, 35, of Lansing, was released Thursday by the Russians after nine months of detention in Russia's Kaliningrad region. He was released to former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson at the Russia-Poland Bagrationovsk-Bezledy border crossing, according to the Richardson Center, the Santa Fe, New Mexico-based organization that negotiates for the release of American prisoners and hostages held in countries that are hostile to the U.S.

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 Russians also continue to imprison Paul Whelan, a former U.S. Marine and corporate security director from Novi with a Michigan-based auto supplier who has been in custody since December 2018 after he was arrested and charged with espionage. Whelan has vehemently denied the accusation and argued he was entrapped, while the Biden administration deems his detention "wrongful" and has pressed for his release from a 16-year sentence of hard labor.

The Richardson Center worked toward Dudley's 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 nine 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."

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."

U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Ann Arbor, praised Richardson's work in securing Dudley's release while emphasizing she is still seeking the release of Whelan.

"I'm thankful Taylor Dudley has been reunited with his family and commend former Gov. Bill Richardson and all those involved for their hard work to secure his release," Dingell said in a Thursday statement. "It's always a success to bring an American home. In light of this news, I am reaffirming my commitment to the release of Paul Whelan, who has been wrongly imprisoned in Russia for more than four years, and reassure his family he will not be forgotten."

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.”

Richardson was also involved in negotiating the release of Huntington Woods journalist Danny Fenster in November 2021. Fenster, who was the managing editor of the online magazine Frontier Myanmar, was held for almost six months by the Myanmar military. He had been sentenced to more than 11 years of hard labor in Myanmar, convicted of spreading false or inflammatory information, contacting illegal organizations and violating visa regulation.

More:Timeline of Michigan resident Paul Whelan's detention in a Russian prison

In 2020, Whelan 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.

The Russian government of Vladimir Putin has treated Whelan "differently ... with their totally illegitimate (espionage) charge that they leveled against him," White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said during a December press briefing. The Kremlin is trying to get additional leverage out of their "fairy tale" that claims Whelan is an American spy, Paul Whelan's sister, Elizabeth, told The Detroit News.

Twitter: @rbeggin