The Biden administration has issued a warning to U.S. citizens inside Russia, urging them to leave the country because of “unpredictable consequences” — including detentions — that may result from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
On Monday, the State Department issued a travel advisory that was set at the highest of four levels.
BREAKING REPORT: United States Updates Travel Advisory to LEVEL 4, Tells ALL AMERICAN CITIZENS to Leave Russia Immediately..
— Chuck Callesto (@ChuckCallesto) February 13, 2023
The news comes as President Joe Biden plans to visit Poland to mark the anniversary of the start of the invasion.
“U.S. citizens residing or traveling in Russia should depart immediately,” the advisory stated. “Exercise increased caution due to the risk of wrongful detentions.”
The advisory went on to warn of “the potential for harassment and the singling out of U.S. citizens for detention by Russian government security officials, the arbitrary enforcement of local law, limited flights into and out of Russia, the Embassy’s limited ability to assist U.S. citizens in Russia, and the possibility of terrorism.”
One such case of what U.S. officials have called a “wrongful detention” was the imprisonment of WNBA player Brittney Griner just a few days before Russia invaded Ukraine. She was arrested at a Moscow airport for bringing marijuana vaping paraphernalia into Russia, and received a nine-year prison sentence for drug possession.
Russia released Griner from the penal colony in December as part of a heavily criticized prisoner exchange for the Russian arms dealer known as the “Merchant of Death” — Viktor Bout.
Meanwhile, the Biden administration did not include in the controversial prison exchange other Americans who were imprisoned in Russia for much longer than Griner — including U.S. Marine veteran Paul Whelan, who was sentenced to prison on espionage charges that the U.S. government and his family have labeled baseless.
In January, Russia’s Federal Security Service announced that they had opened another criminal case against a U.S. citizen suspected of espionage — providing no details regarding the case, even the identity of the U.S. citizen being investigated.
The Russian government appeared to shrug off the United States’ travel advisory.
“This is not a new thing,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters, according to Reuters.
The State Department issued another travel advisory back in September 2022, as Russia began to mobilize its citizens into the military in further escalation of its invasion.
That advisory warned that Russia “may refuse to acknowledge dual nationals’ U.S. citizenship, deny their access to U.S. consular assistance, prevent their departure from Russia, and conscript dual nationals for military service.”