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Russia releases former U.S. Marine Trevor Reed as part of prisoner exchange

Russia has released former Marine Trevor Reed in a prisoner exchange with the United States, his family and officials said Wednesday.

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

They expressed Reed will “tell his own story” when he is ready before asking for privacy to address “the myriad of health issues brought on by the squalid conditions he was subjected to in his Russian gulag.”  

The dramatic exchange between Russia and the U.S. unfolded Wednesday, trading Reed, who was jailed in Moscow, for convicted Russian drug trafficker Konstantin Yaroshenko, who was sentenced to 20 years in prison in 2010. 

The swap took place “as a result of a long negotiation process,” Maria Zakharova, spokesperson for Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said on her verified Telegram channel. 

The surprise deal 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.

President Joe Biden said in a statement Wednesday morning, “Today, we welcome home Trevor Reed and celebrate his return to the family that missed him dearly.”

Biden noted it wasn’t an easy effort to bring Reed home. 

“The negotiations that allowed us to bring Trevor home required difficult decisions that I do not take lightly,” he said. “His safe return is a testament to the priority my Administration places on bringing home Americans held hostage and wrongfully detained abroad.”

Biden praised the work of Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs Roger Carstens and U.S. Ambassador to the Russian Federation John Sullivan for their work in helping Reed return. 

Reed was arrested in the summer of 2019 after Russian authorities said he assaulted an officer while being driven by police to a police station following a night of heavy drinking. Reed was later sentenced to nine years in prison, though his family has maintained his innocence and the U.S. government has described him as unjustly detained.

Yaroshenko, a Russian pilot, was arrested in Liberia in 2010 and extradited to the U.S. before he was ultimately sentenced for conspiracy to smuggle cocaine.

Russia had sought his 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.

The two prisoners were swapped in a European country. 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. The U.S. Bureau of Prisons also updated its website overnight to reflect that Yaroshenko was no longer in custody.

The prisoner swap marks the highest-profile release during the Biden administration of an American deemed wrongly detained abroad and comes even as families of detainees who have met over the last year with administration officials had described them as cool to the idea of an exchange.

In their statement, the Reed family thanked President Joe 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.

Reed was one of several Americans known to be held by Russia, including WNBA star Brittney Griner, who was detained in February after authorities said a search of her bag revealed a cannabis derivative, and Michigan corporate security executive Paul Whelan, who is being held on espionage-related charges his family says are bogus. It was unclear what if any impact Wednesday’s action might have on their cases.

Reed’s parents scored a rare private meeting with Biden and administration officials last month. They had stood weeks earlier along his motorcade route during a presidential visit to Texas in hopes of attracting his attention, then later demonstrated outside the White House to ask for a meeting.

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