Russia Releases U.S. Marine Vet as Part of Prisoner Exchange

(Washington, D.C.) — Russia and the United States have carried out a dramatic prisoner exchange, trading a Marine veteran jailed in Moscow for a convicted Russian drug trafficker serving a long prison sentence in America, both countries announced Wednesday.

The surprise deal involving Trevor Reed, an American jailed for nearly three years, would have been a notable diplomatic maneuver even in times of peace, but it was all the more extraordinary because it was done as Russia’s war with Ukraine has driven relations with the U.S. to their lowest point in decades.

“Today, our prayers have been answered and Trevor is on his way back safely to the United States,” Reed’s family said in a statement.

President Joe Biden, who met in Washington with Reed’s parents last month, trumpeted Reed’s release and noted without elaboration that “the negotiations that allowed us to bring Trevor home required difficult decisions that I do not take lightly.” The Russian foreign ministry described the exchange as the “result of a long negotiation process.”

Many other Americans remain in Russia jail, including Brittney Griner (WNBA) and Paul Whelan (Michigan Corporate Security Executive).

In the summer 2019, Russian authorities arrested Reed, an ex-Marine from Texas. They claimed that he had assaulted an officer as he was being taken by police to a station after a night of drinking. Although his family maintained that he was innocent, he was sentenced to nine-years in prison. The U.S. government also said that remand had been unjustly held and raised concerns about Reed’s declining health.

After Konstantin Yaroshenko was extradited from Liberia, in 2010, he received a 20 year sentence in Connecticut federal prison for conspiring to smuggle cocaine into America.

Russia had sought Yaroshenko’s return for years while also rejecting entreaties by high-level U.S. officials to release Reed, who was nearing his 1,000th day in custody and whose health had recently been worsening, according to his family.

A senior U.S. official, who was not authorized to discuss the matter by name and spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity, described Reed’s case as one of “utmost priority” for the Biden administration, including because of his health, which his family has said included a tuberculosis diagnosis.

“It was a difficult decision but one that we thought was worth it,” the official said.

They were both exchanged in Europe. Though officials would not say where the transfer took place, in the hours before it happened commercial flight trackers identified a plane belonging to Russia’s federal security service as flying to Ankara, Turkey. U.S. Bureau of Prisons made an overnight update to its website to say that Yaroshenko had been released.

Reed was en route back to the U.S., traveling with Roger Cartsens, the U.S. government’s special presidential envoy for hostage affairs.

This prisoner swap is the most prominent release of an American wrongly held abroad. It comes at a time when families of detainees have been meeting with officials from the administration and described them as open to the possibility of an exchange.

The U.S. government does not typically embrace such exchanges for fear that it might encourage foreign governments to take additional Americans as prisoners as a way to extract concessions and to avoid a potential false equivalency between an unjustly detained American — which U.S. officials believe Reed was — and a properly convicted criminal.

However, in this instance, the U.S. official claimed that Yaroshenko has already completed a significant portion of the sentence and the deal was therefore logical.

The Reed family thanked Biden “for making the decision to bring Trevor home” as well as other administration officials and Bill Richardson, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, whom the family said traveled to Moscow in the hours before the Ukraine war began in hopes of securing Reed’s release.

Jonathan Franks is a consultant who had been helping the Reeds with other notable releases such as Michael White (a Navy veteran exempted in 2020).

Russia held other Americans in similar cases. The immediate release didn’t have any impact. Griner was taken into custody in February, after authorities discovered a marijuana derivative in her bag. Whelan is currently being held for espionage charges that his family claims are unfounded.

U.S. officials have described Whelan as unjustly detained, and Biden said Wednesday that “we won’t stop until Paul Whelan and others join Trevor in the loving arms of family and friends.”

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