Overnight Defense

Defense & National Security — Ex-Marine released in prisoner swap with Russia

Trevor Reed
FILE – A poster photo of U.S. Marine Corps veteran and Russian prisoner Trevor Reed stands in Lafayette Park near the White House, March 30, 2022, in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

The Biden administration has 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. 

We’ll share the details of that deal, plus new concerns over Russian aggression in a breakaway region of Moldova and President Biden’s upcoming trip to an Alabama weapons making facility.

This is Defense & National Security, your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond. For The Hill, I’m Ellen Mitchell. Subscribe here.

US secures release of American from Russian prison

The U.S. and Russian on Wednesday announced a prisoner swap between former U.S. Marine Trevor Reed — jailed in Russia since 2019 — and Russian citizen Konstantin Yaroshenko, who had been serving out a 20-year sentence in the U.S. on drug charges. 

A senior administration official later confirmed that 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.   

Celebratory: 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. 

Difficult decisions: 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.”   

A major development: The news came 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.    

Read the full story here.

Zelensky issues warning on Transnistria

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a statement Wednesday that Russia is working to destabilize Transnistria, a breakaway region of Moldova where Russian troops are stationed. 

“The goal is obvious – to destabilize the situation in the region, to threaten Moldova. They show that if Moldova supports Ukraine, there will be certain steps,” Zelensky said in a statement released by the Ukrainian government.  

A constant presence: Russia has had troops in Transnistria since the Soviet Union was dissolved, with a Russian official recently saying the country wants full control of eastern and southern Ukraine to create a path from Crimea to Transnistria.  

As the war between Ukraine and Russia continues, violence is breaking out in Transnistria, with two radio towers that broadcasted Russian stations damaged by blasts this week. 

The Pentagon’s response: Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said it is unclear who was behind the attacks but the U.S. was looking into the matter. 

“We’re not really sure what that’s all about, but that’s something that we’ll stay focused on,” he said.  

Read more here.

And here are five things to know about Transnistria, a potential hot spot in the Russian conflict 


Biden to visit Lockheed facility to spotlight response

President Biden will travel to Alabama next week to visit a Lockheed Martin facility producing Javelin anti-tank weapons systems that his administration is sending to Ukraine to help fend off the Russian invasion, the White House announced.

The trip, scheduled for next Tuesday, is an unusual move by the White House to use a domestic trip to spotlight the administration’s foreign policy maneuvers.   

It’s complicated: Biden’s focus on Russia’s war in Ukraine, which recently entered its third month, has complicated his efforts to promote his domestic agenda around the country. After a monthlong pause in domestic travel, Biden’s trips across the country have recently picked up again with stops in Iowa, New Hampshire, Oregon and Washington.   

The U.S. has ramped up its military assistance to Ukraine in recent weeks, sending heavy weapons to Ukrainian forces as Russia shifted its attacks away from Kyiv and toward Ukraine’s east and south. Biden announced another $800 million in security aid to Ukraine last week and said he would ask Congress for an additional supplemental assistance package this week. 

Polls have shown support for individual steps that Biden has taken to respond to Russia’s invasion, but that support has not seemed to translate into backing for Biden’s overall response to the crisis.   

Read the full story here.

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

  • The McCain Institute for International Leadership will hold day one of its Sedona Forum 2022 with speakers including Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) beginning at 8:30 a.m. 
  • The Vandenberg Coalition will host a talk on “The National Defense Strategy in American strategic planning, competition with China and the defense of Taiwan, and U.S. military strategy in the context of great power rivalry” at 1 p.m. 
  • Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday will speak at the Center for Strategic and International Studies on “The Future of the U.S. Navy” at 1 p.m. 
  • Brookings Institution will host a virtual discussion on “Defense spending in the states” at 3 p.m. 
  • Latvian Ambassador to the U.S. Maris Selga will speak on Latvian foreign policy, NATO and Ukraine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies at 4:45 p.m. 

IN THE HOUSE

  • Secretary of State Antony Blinken will testify before an Appropriations subpanel on the State Department’s 2023 budget request at 10 a.m. 
  •  The Armed Services Committee will hold a “Member Day” hearing to receive testimony from members of Congress on their national defense priorities for the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2023 at 10 a.m. 
  • The Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on “Oversight of the Department of Homeland Security” at 10 a.m. 
  • An Appropriations subcommittee will hold a hearing on “Air Force Installations and Quality of Life Update” at 2 p.m. 
  • An Armed Services subpanel will hold a hearing on F-35 fighter jet sustainment at 2 p.m.
  • An Armed Services subcommittee will hold a hearing on “Fiscal Year 2023 Budget Request for U.S. Special Operations Forces and Command,” with testimony from Christopher Maier, assistant secretary of defense special operations and low intensity conflict; and U.S. Special Operations head Army Gen. Richard Clarke, at 4:30 p.m.  


WHAT WE’RE READING


That’s it for today! Check out The Hill’s Defense and National Security pages for the latest coverage. See you tomorrow!

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