State Department: Kremlin Interrogators 'Singling Out' Americans in Russia

The U.S. State Department has warned that security officials in Russia could be "singling out" U.S. citizens and warned that Americans could be targeted for detention.

The State Department issued an advisory on Tuesday saying that Americans should not travel to Russia and that any U.S. citizens who do so could face "harassment" by the authorities.

The advisory said there was the potential for "the singling out of U.S. citizens in Russia by Russian government security officials including for detention" as well as "the arbitrary enforcement of local law."

The State Department also highlighted "limited flights into and out of Russia, the Embassy's limited ability to assist U.S. citizens in Russia, COVID-19 and related entry restrictions, and terrorism."

"U.S. citizens residing or traveling in Russia should depart Russia immediately," the advisory said.

The advisory also repeated earlier warnings that "U.S. citizens, including former and current U.S. government and military personnel and private citizens engaged in business, who are visiting or residing in Russia have been interrogated without cause and threatened by Russian officials, and may become victims of harassment, mistreatment, and extortion."

An advisory issued for Ukraine on Tuesday also urged Americans not to travel to the country and warned that "conditions have deteriorated" amid the ongoing invasion.

"There are continued reports of U.S. citizens being singled out and detained by the Russian military in Ukraine and when evacuating by land through Russia-occupied territory or to Russia or Belarus," the State Department said.

A State Department spokesperson told Newsweek in a statement on Wednesday that "we have no higher priority than the safety and security of U.S. citizens overseas."

"We have also heard Putin denigrate American ideals of equality, of free speech, and of human rights for all," the statement said. "The world continues to witness the Kremlin's unprovoked and brutal attack against Ukraine, causing death and destruction."

"We are warning U.S. citizens that Russian government security officials in both Russia and in Ukraine may be singling out U.S. citizens based on their nationality and have updated our Travel Advisories to reflect that information," the spokesperson went on.

The spokesperson explained that the State Department had updated its travel advisories for both Russia and Ukraine and urged Americans to leave those countries.

"U.S. citizens in Russia and in Ukraine should remain vigilant and take appropriate steps to increase their security awareness," the spokesperson said.

"Since February 10, we have been urging U.S. citizens to depart Ukraine and since March 5, we have been urging U.S. citizens to depart Russia," the statement said.

"We reiterate that all U.S. citizens in Russia and Ukraine should depart immediately," the spokesperson said.

The advice against traveling to Russia comes after a U.S. diplomat in Moscow was able to visit detained WNBA star and Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner. She has been detained since mid-February on charges that she was carrying vape cartridges in her luggage that contained cannabis oil.

State Department spokesperson Ned Price said on March 23 that an "official from our embassy has been granted consular access to Brittney Griner. We were able to check on her condition."

"Our official found Brittney Griner to be in good condition and we will continue to do everything we can to see to it that she is treated fairly throughout this ordeal," Price said.

Tyler Jacob, an American who was detained by Russian forces in Crimea for 10 days, spoke to CNN's Don Lemon on Tuesday night about his experience, saying that the Russian authorities appeared to believe he was a spy.

Jacob had been teaching English in the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson before it fell to the Russians. He took the decision to leave his wife and stepdaughter and boarded a bus taking foreigners to Turkey.

"The Russians believe in this myth that 007—the legend—his cover story is being an English teacher," Jacob went on. "So they thought that I was like the legend."

Update 03/30/22, 6:15 a.m. ET: This article was updated to include more information.

Update 03/30/22, 9:15 a.m. ET: This article was updated to include a statement from the State Department.

Ukrainian Soldiers Stand Guard at a Checkpoint
Ukrainian soldiers stand guard at a checkpoint in the outskirt of Kyiv on March 28, 2022. The State Department has advised against travel to Ukraine and Russia. Sergei SUPINSKY / AFP/Getty Images