- The Washington Times - Friday, August 3, 2001

ROSSOSH, Russia American Fulbright scholar John Tobin was released from a Russian prison today after serving half of a one-year drug sentence and winning parole, ending a high-profile case that had strained U.S.-Russia relations.
Tobin, carrying his belongings in a shopping bag, was escorted by two U.S. Embassy representatives as he left the prison in the southern Russian town of Rossosh. He was freed shortly after a 15-judge panel approved a parole board's recommendation for his release.
Tobin did not speak to reporters gathered at the prison. He was to travel to the regional capital of Voronezh before going to Moscow.
Tobin became eligible for parole yesterday, the halfway point of his sentence, and the parole board unanimously recommended release, satisfied by his behavior at the prison.
“I'm absolutely elated,'' said Alyce Van Etten, Tobin's mother, who lives in Monticello, N.Y. “I look forward to hearing his voice as soon as possible.''
The 24-year-old from Connecticut was arrested in January amid strained U.S.-Russian relations, which were exacerbated by Federal Security Service claims that Tobin was a spy in training. No espionage charges were filed and Tobin said he was framed on the drug charges because he refused to work for Russian intelligence.
He was convicted in April of obtaining, possessing and distributing marijuana and sentenced to 37 months in prison. A higher court overturned the distribution conviction and reduced the sentence to one year.
U.S. Rep. James Maloney, who represents Tobin's district in Congress, said he and Tobin's family are concerned that something may happen to Tobin before he leaves Russia. “We're on guard for that.''
Mr. Maloney said Tobin's release “is wonderful news, but everyone is still holding their breath. Our goal is to get Jack back to the United States, back to Ridgefield, Connecticut, back to his family.''
Tobin was expected to return to the United States by next Tuesday or Wednesday, he said.
Mr. Maloney and other members of Congress from Connecticut had pressed for Tobin's release, sending letters to Russian officials and asking President Bush to address it in meetings with President Vladimir Putin.
“We have to get rid of this headache for the (prison) administration,'' Judge Boris Gladko, of the Rossosh City Court, said yesterday.
Warden Nikolai Kravchenko had welcomed signs that Tobin could soon be out of his jurisdiction, saying, “I'm probably more interested than anybody in his speedy return home.''
The warden portrayed Tobin as model prisoner who spent his time playing sports, chess, and the guitar. Tobin “came to be more understanding of our Russia, of our soul,'' Mr. Kravchenko said.
The prison where he was held is a collection of shabby two- and three-story Soviet-era buildings, surrounded by a white brick wall topped with barbed wire on outskirts of town. While journalists waited outside today, a horse-drawn wagon delivering bread went into the facility.
Mr. Kravchenko boasted about the state of his prison, saying U.S. Embassy officials even “expressed their gratitude'' to him for ensuring Tobin was held in decent conditions. Most Russian prisons are poorly equipped and disease-ridden.
Last December, Edmund Pope, a U.S. businessman convicted of spying and sentenced to 20 years in a Russian prison, was quickly pardoned by Mr. Putin as a humanitarian gesture.

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