WASHINGTON — Russia and the United States have carried out a dramatic prisoner swap, swapping a Navy veteran imprisoned in Moscow for a convicted Russian drug trafficker serving a long prison sentence in America, the two countries announced Wednesday.
The surprise deal involving Trevor Reed, an American imprisoned for nearly three years, would have been a notable diplomatic maneuver even in peacetime, but it was all the more extraordinary because it was done as Russia’s war with Ukraine drove relations with the United States to their lowest point in decades.
“Today our prayers have been answered and Trevor is on his way home safely to the United States,” Reed’s family said in a statement.
President Joe Biden, who met Reed’s parents in Washington last month, trumpeted Reed’s release and noted without elaboration that “the negotiations that allowed us to bring Trevor home involved difficult decisions that I do not take lightly.” The Russian Foreign Ministry described the exchange as “the result of a long negotiation process”.
Several other Americans remain imprisoned in Russia, including WNBA star Brittney Griner and Michigan Corporate Security Officer Paul Whelan.
Reed, a former Marine from Texas, was arrested in the summer of 2019 after Russian authorities said he assaulted an officer as he was driven by police to a police station after a night of heavy drinking. . He was later sentenced to nine years in prison, although his family maintained his innocence and the US government described him as wrongfully detained and expressed concern about his declining health.
The United States has agreed to return Konstantin Yaroshenko, a Russian pilot serving a 20-year federal prison sentence in Connecticut for conspiracy to smuggle cocaine into the United States after his arrest in Liberia in 2010 and extradition to the United States.
Russia had demanded Yaroshenko’s return for years while rejecting pleas from senior US officials to release Reed, who was nearing his 1,000th day in detention and whose health had recently deteriorated, according to his family.
A senior US official, who was not authorized to discuss the case by name and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity, described Reed’s case as one of “top priorities for the Biden administration, particularly because of his health, which his family said included a diagnosis of tuberculosis.
“It was a difficult decision but one that we believe was worth it,” the official said.
The two prisoners were exchanged in a European country. While officials wouldn’t say where the transfer took place, in the hours leading up to it, commercial flight trackers identified a plane belonging to Russia’s Federal Security Service as flying in Ankara, Turkey. The US Bureau of Prisons also updated its website overnight to say Yaroshenko was no longer in custody.
Reed was en route to the United States, traveling with Roger Cartsens, the US government’s presidential special envoy for hostage affairs.
The prisoner exchange marks the most high-profile release under the Biden administration of an American deemed wrongfully detained abroad and comes even as the families of detainees who have met with government officials over the past year administration had described them as favorable to the idea of an exchange.
The US government generally does not accept such exchanges for fear that it will encourage foreign governments to take other Americans prisoner in order to obtain concessions and avoid a potential false equivalence between an unjustly detained American – this that US officials believe Reed was – and a duly convicted criminal.
In this case, however, the US official said the deal made sense in part because Yaroshenko had already served a long portion of his prison sentence, which has now been commuted.
The Reed family thanked Biden “for making the decision to bring Trevor home” along with other administration officials and Bill Richardson, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, who the family says is s traveled to Moscow in the hours preceding. the Ukrainian war has begun hoping to secure Reed’s release.
The Reed family had also worked with a consultant, Jonathan Franks, who has been involved in other recent high-profile releases, including the case of Michael White, a Navy veteran released from Iran in 2020.
The release had no immediate impact on the cases of the other Americans detained by Russia. These include Griner, who was arrested in February after authorities said a search of his bag revealed a cannabis derivative, and Whelan, who is being held for espionage his family says they are fake.
U.S. officials have described Whelan as wrongfully 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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