US secures release of former Marine Trevor Reed from Russian prison
The Biden administration on Wednesday announced it had secured the release of Trevor Reed, a former U.S. Marine who has been held prisoner in Russia since 2019, as part of a prisoner swap for a Russian jailed in the U.S. for drug trafficking.
The Russian foreign ministry said that Reed was freed as part of a prisoner exchange for a Russian citizen, Konstantin Yaroshenko, who had been serving out a 20-year sentence on drug charges.
A senior Biden administration official later confirmed that President Biden commuted Yaroshenko’s sentence in exchange for Reed’s release, but noted that the Russian citizen had already served out the majority of his sentence in federal prison for cocaine smuggling. Yaroshenko was sentenced in 2011 in the Southern District of New York. The White House said the exchange took place in Turkey.
Biden, who met with Trevor Reed’s parents, Joey and Paula Reed, at the White House last month, issued a statement Wednesday morning celebrating his release.
“Today, we welcome home Trevor Reed and celebrate his return to the family that missed him dearly. Trevor, a former U.S. Marine, is free from Russian detention. I heard in the voices of Trevor’s parents how much they’ve worried about his health and missed his presence. And I was delighted to be able to share with them the good news about Trevor’s freedom,” Biden said.
Biden added: “The negotiations that allowed us to bring Trevor home required difficult decisions that I do not take lightly. His safe return is a testament to the priority my Administration places on bringing home Americans held hostage and wrongfully detained abroad. We won’t stop until Paul Whelan and others join Trevor in the loving arms of family and friends.”
The news was a major development, coming amid Russia’s war in Ukraine, which has dramatically escalated tensions and frayed relations between the U.S. and Russia.
The senior administration official said that the negotiations for Reed’s release were limited and not part of a broader diplomatic engagement with Russia. A second official said that the development would in no way change the U.S. approach to imposing costs on Russia for the two-month war in Ukraine.
Reed was detained in Russia in 2019 for allegedly assaulting a police officer during a drunken incident that he says he doesn’t remember. He was sentenced to nine years in prison and has unsuccessfully sought to appeal the sentence. Two U.S. administrations have pressed for his release, calling his detention unjust.
According to his family, Reed’s health has deteriorated in recent months. They believe he contracted tuberculosis and said he staged hunger strikes to protest his treatment in a Russian jail. Recently, Reed was said to be coughing up blood.
The first senior administration official said that the “growing concern” about Reed’s health contributed to the decision by U.S. officials to ratchet up negotiations to bring him back to the U.S.
“Trevor has been wrongfully detained for a ‘crime’ the U.S. Ambassador to Russia has said ‘obviously did not occur’ and our family has been living a nightmare,” Joey and Paula Reed said in a statement Wednesday. “Today, our prayers have been answered and Trevor is safely on his way back to the United States.”
David Whelan, Paul Whelan’s brother, said in a lengthy statement that his family is “full of happiness” for the Reed family but at the same time questioned the Biden administration’s commitment to freeing his brother.
“Who gets saved is the President’s choice,” the statement read in part. “President Trump wasn’t able to make those difficult decisions. It may be President Biden is unwilling to make them either. We hope we don’t have to pin our hopes on another American President before someone will do the right thing for Paul.”
Asked for a response to Whelan’s statement later Wednesday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Biden and other officials would “continue to do everything they can to bring Paul Whelan home.”
The Reed family demonstrated outside a Biden event in their home state of Texas in early March, securing a call from the president who said he would meet with them. Later that same month, with a meeting yet to be scheduled, the Reeds traveled to Washington and demonstrated outside the White House. Their efforts secured them a meeting with Biden later that day.
Reed’s case also attracted bipartisan attention in Washington, with Congress passing a resolution last year calling for his immediate release.
“The Reeds have been living a two-and-a-half-year nightmare fighting for their son’s release. Today, our prayers have been answered. I look forward to welcoming Trevor safely home,” Rep. August Pfluger (R-Texas), who represents Reed’s home district in Congress, said on Wednesday.
Pfluger also praised U.S. ambassador to Russia John Sullivan for his work on Reed’s case and thanked Biden and other officials at the White House and State Department “for their compassion and care in bringing Trevor home.”
Biden administration officials also stressed that they are still committed to securing the release of Paul Whelan, another American citizen arrested in Russia in 2018 on spy charges. The U.S. has also decried his detention as unjust.
WNBA star Brittany Griner has also been detained in Russia since February after Russian officials said they found cartridges containing hashish oil in her luggage.
Updated at 4:23 p.m.