Dudley, 35, was released on Thursday at the Russia-Poland Bagrationovsk-Bezledy border crossing to a group that included former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who advocates for the return of political prisoners, his team, and a representative from the U.S. embassy in Warsaw.
He had been detained in April of last year after crossing the Russian border from Poland, where he had traveled to for a music festival. Dudley had been backpacking in Europe looking for inspiration for a possible book he was working on when he was detained.
“Earlier today, Russian authorities released American Citizen Taylor Dudley, a 35-year-old Navy veteran, across the Polish border to Gov. Bill Richardson, his team, and a representative from the U.S. Embassy in Warsaw, a release the Richardson Center worked on diligently and quietly for more than 6 months with significant assistance from the Steve Menzies Global Foundation, from Hostage U.S., and from the James Foley Foundation,” family spokesman Jonathan Franks said in a statement.
The Richardson Center, named after the former governor, said in a statement that their team had traveled to Moscow multiple times as they attempted to negotiate for his release. They had been working on securing his release for six months.
The governor, in a statement, reiterated his commitment and concern for Paul Whelan, a former U.S. Marine, who has been wrongfully detained by Russia for four years and was sentenced to 16 years in prison for espionage in 2020, a charge that he and the U.S. government repeatedly say are false.
“Taylor’s safe return would not have been possible without the help of Ara Abramyan and Vitaly Pruss, who turned every stone in this joint effort; and the help of Steve Menzies, who offered tremendous support to this effort,” Richardson said. “It is significant that despite the current environment between our two countries, the Russian authorities did the right thing by releasing Taylor today. 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.”
State Department spokesman Ned Price said on Jan. 3 that the U.S. has engaged in “direct conversations” with the Kremlin about Whelan’s release following the swap that occurred in early December where the U.S. gave up convicted arms dealer Viktor Bout in exchange for WNBA star Brittney Griner.
A State Department spokesperson told the Washington Examiner that they were “aware of” reports on Dudley’s return, and that, “The U.S. Department of State and our embassies and consulates abroad have no greater priority than the safety and security of U.S. citizens overseas.”