US musician arrested in Moscow bewildered at drugs charges

The Guardian reports

A US citizen arrested in Russia on drugs charges this week is a military veteran who lived in Moscow for nearly a decade, working as a musician, rock band manager and appearing in an interview with the late food and travel journalist Anthony Bourdain.

Travis Michael Leake and a friend, Valeria Grobanyuk, were arrested in a drugs raid that has the potential to further ignite tensions between Washington and Moscow. The State Department has warned Americans to steer clear of Russia after the invasion of Ukraine and a number of recent arrests of US citizens.

“I don’t understand why I’m here. I do not admit my guilt,” said a man on camera identified by Russian state media as Leake. “I do not believe that I could have done what I am accused of, because I do not know what I am accused of.”

The case comes after the arrest of the US journalist Evan Gershkovich, who was detained in March on espionage charges that are widely viewed as politically motivated. A number of reports have suggested that Moscow may seek to exchange Gershkovich for a number of Russians, including suspected spies, financial criminals and others.

According to social media posts and friends, Leake was the frontman of a band called Lovi Nochi or Seize the Night.

In Facebook posts before his arrest, he tried to calm relatives who were worried about him staying in Russia after Moscow launched its invasion of Ukraine.

“Thank you to everyone who has expressed their concern about my wellbeing during this time of conflict between Russia and Ukraine,” he wrote on 26 February 2022, two days after Russian troops went in.

“I am a guest in Russia, and as such, I have always believed that I have no right to press any political opinion, whether for or against whatever subject may be in question.”

In subsequent posts, he complained about foreign companies leaving Russia and photos of the relatively high rouble-to-dollar exchange rate, telling his friends he had “almost universally positive [encouragement] for my decision to remain here in Russia from people of all backgrounds”.