Sister of American detained in Russia discusses his exclusion from proposed prisoner swap

As Russia weighs a prisoner swap to free detained Americans Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan, a third American has been held in a Russian prison for more than a year. Marc Fogel, 61, a teacher who’s lived and worked in Russia for nearly a decade was sentenced to 14 years of hard labor by Russian authorities in a case strikingly similar to Griner's. His sister Anne Fogel joins Amna Nawaz to discuss.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Amid the back-and-forth between Russia and the U.S. over the fates of two Americans detained in Russian jails, one American has not been part of those intensifying negotiations.

    Amna Nawaz is back now with his story.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Russia's Foreign Minister Lavrov said today he will soon propose a date for talks with U.S. Secretary of State Blinken, as Russia weighs a prisoner swap to free detained Americans Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan.

    But there's a third American also held by Russia, and detained now for almost a year. His name is Marc Fogel. He's a 61-year-old teacher who's lived and worked in Russia for nine years. And in a case strikingly similar to Griner's, Fogel was arrested when Russian airport authorities found vape cartridges and cannabis buds in his luggage in August of 2021. He was accused of intending to sell to students, convicted, and sentenced to 14 years of hard labor.

    Fogel's family says he suffers from chronic pain and the marijuana was medicinal. They want the U.S. government to bring him home.

    Joining me now from Missoula, Montana, is his sister, Anne Fogel.

    Anne, welcome to the "NewsHour," and thank you for joining us.

    First and foremost, just tell us, how is your brother doing? Have you been able to talk to him or communicate with him in any way?

    Anne Fogel, Sister of Marc Fogel: No one has talked to him.

    We are able to write some letters through the Russian prison system. It's a bit of a convoluted system, though, because, while sometimes he is able to get our letters in English, sometimes, he gets them in Russian, and then they get translated into English.

    And then we get a photocopied picture of a handwritten letter. And we are then — then we have to find a translator where we are. There's a lot lost in translation.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    I'm sure you were watching Secretary Blinken announcing this week they have put forward a deal, a proposed deal to Russia.

    Secretary Blinken mentioned Brittney Griner. He mentioned Paul Whelan. He didn't mention your brother's name. And I just wonder what you thought in that moment.

  • Anne Fogel:

    It was a gut punch. It was a gut punch.

    We have been trying to raise our voices. We were advised by the State Department keep a low profile through sentencing, which we did. And we have been really trying to follow the rules and really give the Russian judicial system a chance to work.

    Over the past year, of course, things have been so much — the relationship has gotten so much worse. So that became apparent that time was not playing in our favor at all. It's hard to hear Secretary Blinken talk about Griner and Whelan, and not include Marc.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And do you believe that the U.S. government is right now doing everything it can to free your brother?

  • Anne Fogel:

    Well, no, I don't, because he has not been deemed wrongfully detained. And that is — we need that. We need that moniker in order to move him into the potential negotiations for the swap.

    So, no, I don't think so. I'm hopeful, though. I'm hopeful that things will come right. I think that we have — we have gotten a lot of letters sent to the State Department. There's a petition now that's going about. And we have — of course, we're on the "NewsHour."

    So, this is a very positive thing. And, luckily, we have had some coverage from the other networks as well. So, we're very, very thankful for that.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And tell us a little bit about your brother. He chose to go there. He'd been living in Russia for nine years. He was teaching at what I understand to be sort of international school, where U.S. and British and Canadian diplomats sent their kids.

    Why was he there? Why did he choose this work? Tell us about him.

  • Anne Fogel:

    Marc had always had a wanderlust and chose to join the international school community, well, 36 years ago.

    He has lived in, I think, seven different countries with his wife and kids. They raised their kids overseas. He comes home every summer and every Christmas, but their life has been overseas. And they love that. They love Russia, and they love the Russian people.

    He is a true, blue history teacher. He's an extremely passionate person. He was really able to make that work in his life, where he got to do his passion. And I don't think he's ever worked a day in his life as a result. I think his students would say the same thing. He has inspired a lot of people, including the son of the former Ambassador Michael McFaul.

    His son was in Marc's class as well.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And we know Ambassador McFaul has been among those publicly calling for your brother's release.

    You have mentioned your family has said publicly he suffers from chronic pain. That's why he had the medicinal marijuana with him. A 14-year prison sentence, what do you worry that would do to him?

  • Anne Fogel:

    He is meant to go to work colony. I don't — I don't see how that would be possible.

    He is — his first back surgery was at 30 years of age. And he's had one failed back surgery after another, which then culminated in hip replacements and shoulder surgeries. And it's not — he's not able to do manual work at this point, limps. One leg is appreciably smaller than the other. He's got very significant scarring on his back.

    I just don't understand how the Russian courts didn't look at the stack of medical files that we sent and sent him home at that point. It's crushing. He will not survive this. He will not survive 14 years in a work colony.

    I think it's inhumane for the U.S. government to leave him. That's how I feel.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And have you or anyone in your family asked to speak directly with President Biden?

  • Anne Fogel:

    Yes.

    President Biden, I want to talk to you, please. He's a schoolteacher. Your wife's a schoolteacher. I — he has done amazing things. He doesn't belong in a Russian jail. I would love to speak to President Biden. He's my president.

    But, no, we have not as of yet.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    If this deal goes through, are you concerned your brother will be left behind?

  • Anne Fogel:

    As the deal currently stands, yes, we're very worried he's going to be left behind. And I worry that there will not be another opportunity like this.

    The thought of never seeing him again is terrifying.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And is there anything else you want people to know about your brother?

  • Anne Fogel:

    He's an extraordinary person. He's an extraordinary teacher. And he needs to come home. He just needs to come home.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    That is Anne Fogel joining us from Missoula, Montana. She is the sister of Marc Fogel, who is currently detained in Russia and has been for a year.

    Anne, thank you so much for your time.

  • Anne Fogel:

    Thank you for sharing our story.

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