Biden made the statement just as the Russian State Department announced it had arranged a prisoner exchange with Washington and released Reed in exchange for “Russian citizen Konstantin Yaroshenko, who was sentenced to 20 years in prison by a US court.”
The deal came amid a backdrop of bitter recriminations between Washington and Moscow over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which has plunged relations to their lowest point since the Cold War. It leaves at least two well-known Americans in Russian custody: Paul Whelan, another former Marine, who was arrested in 2018 on espionage charges and sentenced to 16 years in prison, and Brittney Griner, a professional basketball player who arrived at an airport in the Moscow area in February for transporting hash oil.
The exchange was the “result of a lengthy negotiation process,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on Telegram. The US Bureau of Prisons website listed the former Russian pilot as “not in” [BOP] guardianship.”
Reed’s family confirmed his release on Wednesday, thanking Biden for actions that “may have saved Trevor’s life.”
“Today, our prayers have been answered and Trevor is safely on his way back to the United States,” the family said in a statement.
The surprise prisoner swap came at a particularly tense moment in US-Russian relations, even within the context of the Kremlin’s two-month-old war in Ukraine. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said this week that the Biden administration hoped to weaken Russia enough that it would no longer be able to threaten its neighbors, while Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov spoke of a “real” threat from the Third World War.
The exchange indicated that Washington and Moscow retain the ability to conduct basic diplomatic business, even with relations at rock bottom.
Shortly after conflict broke out in Ukraine, Reed’s family and US officials renewed calls for Reed’s release, because his parents said his health was deteriorating. They said last month their son told them he was “coughing up blood several times a day, had a fever and still had pain in his lungs.”
The push for the release of Reed, who served as part of the presidential guard during the Obama administration, has met with bipartisan support as some US lawmakers accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of using the naval veteran as a political bargaining chip.
Family of Marine Corps veteran imprisoned in Russia Trevor Reed urges release as health deteriorates
US officials have repeatedly accused Russia of apprehending Americans like Reed as potential leverage in a trade. Among the US citizens being held in Russia is WNBA star Griner.
His arrest was the result of a drunken night in Russia that he said he no longer remembered. It resulted in a nine-year prison term in 2020 for endangering the “life and health” of Russian police officers. He denied any wrongdoing and described his case as “clearly political”.
While traveling from North Texas to Moscow to visit his girlfriend in 2019, Reed was jailed after a night of drinking that ended with allegedly assaulting two police officers. US Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan has described the evidence used to convict Reed as “ridiculous†
Russian state TV broadcasted footage of Reed boarding a plane at Moscow’s Vnukovo airport on Wednesday. He was wearing a black duffel bag, had dark circles under his eyes and was being held by gunmen wearing camouflage clothing.
FAQ: Is a Russian-American prisoner swap possible?
The inmate on the other side of the swap, 53-year-old former Russian pilot Yaroshenko, was serving a 20-year sentence in the Danbury, Conn., federal prison for conspiracy to bring drugs into the United States. His lawyers previously claimed that he was ambushed by the Drug Enforcement Administration after being detained by authorities in Liberia and handed over to DEA officials.
In 2010, Yaroshenko met two men about transporting large shipments of cocaine from South America to Liberia and to other destinations, including the United States, according to court documents. The two were confidential sources for a long-running undercover DEA operation.
Wednesday’s exchange took place in Turkey, Yaroshenko’s wife, Viktoria, told the Russian newspaper Izvestia. She said she was made aware of the plan for an exchange prior to Orthodox Easter. “They told me he would come today,” she said. “I want to cry. I’m going to the airport.”
His lawyer, Alexei Tarasov, told Russian outlets that trade arrangements were finalized last week and Yaroshenko was now on his way home. There was no confidence that it would take place until the last minute, the lawyer said.
US officials, speaking to reporters on condition of anonymity under Biden administration rules Wednesday morning, said Reed was on his way to the United States and in good spirits. They gave few details about his release.
“It’s a good day,” said a senior official. “But you will understand that he has had some difficult years.”
They said Reed’s health was a driver in the decision to accelerate months-long negotiations over Reed’s case. Reed went on a hunger strike over concerns he might have contracted tuberculosis, a fear Russian officials said were unfounded.
“I think that helped get the conversations really started on this topic, got to a point where we could make this arrangement, got to a point where we could turn to some of the logistics to just make it happen.” to get,” said a senior official.
Officials stressed that the talks leading to the prisoner exchange were limited to Reed’s fate and did not address the war in Ukraine. They said no senior US officials have traveled to Russia as part of the negotiations.
“This will in no way change our approach to supporting our Ukrainian partners and holding the Kremlin accountable for its actions in Ukraine,” another official said. “These topics were not discussed. They were never meant to be cut. † † † This was about one thing and only one thing, and it was securing the release of an American who had been wrongfully detained in Russia for far too long.”
They said the United States would continue to find ways to cooperate with Russia on certain issues, including their goal of securing the release of other Americans held in Russia. These include Whelan, who was sentenced to 16 years of hard labor on charges of espionage in 2020, and Griner.
In a statement to reporters, Whelan’s brother said he hoped Biden would make a similar decision in his brother’s case.
“Paul has already spent three and a quarter years as a Russian hostage,” wrote David Whelan. “Is President Biden’s failure to bring Paul home an admission that some cases are too difficult to solve?”
Timothy Bella and Amar Nadhir contributed to this report.