Trevor Reed, former US marine, freed in US-Russia prisoner swap

Moscow announced it had exchanged him for Russian pilot Konstantin Yaroshenko

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The US and Russia have swapped two prisoners amid their most tense relations in decades over the war in Ukraine, with former US marine Trevor Reed released in exchange for Russian pilot Konstantin Yaroshenko.

US President Joe Biden welcomed Mr Reed's release on Wednesday but Washington stressed that the swap does not signal any change in US views towards Moscow.

“This is a discrete issue on which we were able to make arrangements with the Russians,” a senior US official told reporters.

“It represents no change, zero, to our approach to the appalling violence in Ukraine.”

Moscow said it had exchanged Mr Reed for Russian pilot Konstantin Yaroshenko, who was convicted of drug smuggling in the US.

State Department spokesman Ned Price said later on CNN that diplomatic talks with Russia on Ukraine were "at a dead end" despite the releases.

US officials said Mr Reed was on his way home after being in a Russian prison since 2019.

“We welcome home Trevor Reed and celebrate his return to the family that missed him dearly,” Mr Biden said in a statement.

“The negotiations that allowed us to bring Trevor home required difficult decisions that I do not take lightly.”

Even on Wednesday, his parents’ joy was mitigated by the concern they said they felt about his physical appearance.

They were struck by his unsteady gait and how thin he looked as TV footage captured him walking, flanked by guards, from a van to the jet.

“He just didn’t sound like himself,” said Mr Reed’s mother, Paula, recounting their brief phone conversation while he was on the plane, according to the AP.

“We just asked him how he was doing and he said, ‘I’m fine.’ But he always says that even when he isn’t. And he just didn’t sound like his normal self.”

Mr Price said Mr Reed's condition required "urgent treatment."

Russian news agencies reported on April 4 that Mr Reed had ended a hunger strike and was being treated in his prison's medical centre. The prison service said Mr Reed had gone on hunger strike on March 28 to protest disciplinary action against him.

Mr Reed's parents said at the time he had been exposed to an inmate with active tuberculosis in December, but their son had not been tested for the illness despite a rapid deterioration in his health.

The prison service said at the time he had repeatedly tested negative for tuberculosis and had not come into contact with anyone infected.

Mr Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken said they were working to free another US citizen held in Russia, Paul Whelan, also a former Marine.

Mr Whelan's family welcomed the release of Mr Reed, however they expressed concern that it "narrowed" the options left for the 52-year-old to be released.

"I think it makes it trickier, frankly, for Paul," his brother, David Whelan, told The National. "The Biden administration has defined the currency for an American citizen being wrongfully detained in Russia and that's Mr Yaroshenko."

Mr Biden said that his administration “won't stop until Paul Whelan and others join Trevor in the loving arms of family and friends".

Mr Whelan was sentenced to 16 years in prison in 2020 on espionage charges that his family and the US claim are false.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken welcomed Mr Reed's release from “wrongful detention".

Images released by Russian state TV showed Mr Reed — dressed all in black and carrying a large bag — being escorted on to a plane at Moscow's Vnukovo International Airport by men in military uniform, Reuters reported.

A second senior US official said Mr Reed was “clearly in good spirits, but you’ll understand he’s had a difficult couple of years".

Mr Reed, a student and former marine from Texas, was in July 2020 sentenced to nine years in prison by a Russian court after allegedly attacking police officers while intoxicated.

Russian pilot Konstantin Yaroshenko was arrested in Liberia in 2010 for drug trafficking. He was then transferred to the US, where he was sentenced to 20 years in prison in September 2011.

“I want to emphasise here that this was a commutation of his sentence,” the first US official said of the pilot's case.

“The action in no way undermines or diminishes the import of the finding of his guilt.”

Women’s basketball star Britney Griner was detained at a Moscow airport in February for reportedly carrying several cannabis oil vape cartridges.

WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert told reporters this month that the league is “doing everything we can” to bring the Phoenix Mercury star home.

Griner is scheduled to make a court appearance on May 19 and could face up to 10 years in a Russian prison if convicted.

Mr Whelan is currently being held in a Russian labour camp.

A resolution sponsored by Haley M Stevens, a US congresswoman from Michigan, and co-sponsored by 41 other members of Congress implores Russia to present credible evidence of wrongdoing against Mr Whelan or release him immediately.

It also calls on Russia to provide unrestricted consular access to him to ensure his rights are being respected.

Updated: April 27, 2022, 10:11 PM
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