If the name Taylor Dudley does not come to mind when Brittany Griner or the “Merchant of Death” is discussed, the Dudley family’s negotiation approach may have helped the 35-year-old Navy veteran escape Russian captivity on Thursday.
Jonathan Franks, a representative for Dudley’s family, said that he was freed after months of talks led by Bill Richardson, former governor of New Mexico, according to CNN.
“There are many low-profile Americans that deserve freedoms, too,” Richardson said. “In other words, there are many around the world that don’t have fame but that still deserve America’s backing.”
Before Thursday, very little was known about Dudley’s detention, which the U.S. government had not ruled to be “wrongful” or the result of arbitrary and discriminatory motives. The anonymity was because his family wanted the discussions over his release to remain confidential.
Dudley was held in Russia for nearly a year. In April 2022, he entered Kaliningrad from Poland and was apprehended by Russian police. Kaliningrad is a Russian exclave governed by Moscow between Poland and Lithuania. Dudley crossed the border for unknown reasons while in Poland for a music festival.
Jonathan Franks, the Dudley family spokesman, said the discussions were led by the nonprofit organization Richardson founded, the Richardson Center for Global Engagement. The former governor and ambassador has long campaigned to secure the release of Americans incarcerated abroad. Last summer, Trevor Reed, a U.S. citizen and former Marine who had been unlawfully detained in Russia, was freed thanks in part to the efforts of the organization he founded.
Following nearly a year in negotiations, Dudley was freed on Thursday at the Russia-Poland Bagrationovsk-Bezledy border crossing, according to Richardson. Richardson thanked the State Department and the American embassies in Warsaw and Moscow for helping to get Dudley out of prison.
“After six months of intensive work, it’s great to see this release of Taylor Dudley happen,” Richardson said. “We worked it hard in Moscow and Kaliningrad and first raised it during our meetings with Russian officials on Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan and Trevor Reed.”
Griner and Reed, both U.S. citizens, were later freed, but Russia still holds Whelan. Richardson said he is still pushing forward in talks with Russia to get Whelan out of jail.
Whelan, a former U.S. Marine is one of several Americans still held captive in Russia, according to CNN. He was taken into custody in Russia in December 2018 and given a 16-year prison term.
When the U.S. offered to exchange Viktor Bout, an arms dealer known as the “Merchant of Death,” for Whelan and Griner, only Griner was released by Russia.
According to Franks, Dudley’s release was also made possible with cooperation from the U.S. Embassy and the Steve Menzies Global Foundation.