Washington (AFP) – Russia and the United States staged an unexpected prisoner exchange at a time of high tension, as they on Wednesday exchanged a Marine veteran imprisoned by Moscow for a convicted Russian drug smuggler serving a long prison sentence in America.
transaction involving Trevor ReidThe American, imprisoned for nearly three years, would have been a notable diplomatic maneuver even in peacetime, but it was all the more surprising because it was done Russia’s war with Ukraine Pushing relations with the United States to their lowest level in decades.
On the other end of the swap was Konstantin Yaroshenko, a Russian pilot who was serving a 20-year federal sentence for conspiracy to smuggle cocaine into the United States.
Even as the Biden administration announced the swap, it has made clear that the decision does not herald a broader breakthrough between the two countries. Russian forces remain determined in their attack on Ukraine, and the United States and Western allies continue to impose sanctions on other Americans, including WNBA star Britney Grenier and Michigan Corporate Security Director Paul Whelan, They are still imprisoned in Russia.
Joy, Reid’s father, said the exchange, a culmination of longstanding requests from both countries as well as private diplomatic wrangling, occurred in Turkey when “the two planes stopped side by side, basically, and then left.”
“I think it’s really going to affect him for him and us when we can finally see and touch him,” he said in an interview with The Associated Press.
Reed, a 30-year-old former Marine from Texas, was arrested in the summer of 2019 after Russian authorities said he assaulted an officer as he was being taken by police to a police station after a night of heavy drinking. He was later sentenced to nine years in prison, though the US government labeled him unjustly detained and lobbied for his release while his family asserted his innocence and expressed concerns about his deteriorating health – including coughing, blood, and a hunger strike.
Until Wednesday, his parents’ joy was dampened by the anxiety they said they felt about his physical appearance. They were shocked by his unsteady gait and how skinny he looked when television footage of him walking, surrounded by guards, from a truck to a plane.
He didn’t look like him,” said Red’s mother, Paula, recounting their brief phone conversation while he was on the plane. “We just asked him how he’s doing and he said, ‘I’m fine. “But he always says it even when he’s not. And he just doesn’t sound like his normal self.”
Reid was on his way back to the United States, traveling with Roger Kartsins, the US government’s special presidential envoy for hostage affairs.
President Joe Biden, who met Reid’s parents in Washington last month, praised Reid’s release and noted, without further details, that “the negotiations that have allowed us to bring Trevor home require tough decisions that I don’t take seriously.” The Russian government also confirmed the deal, and the Foreign Ministry described the exchange as “the result of a long negotiation process.”
A senior Biden administration official warned that negotiations centered on “a separate set of prisoner issues” and did not represent a change in the US government’s condemnation of Russian violence against Ukraine.
The official told reporters, who spoke on condition of anonymity, underground rules established by the Department.
Yaroshenko, for his part, was arrested in Liberia in 2010 and extradited to the United States on drug smuggling charges. The Department of Justice described him as an “experienced international drug dealer” who conspired to distribute thousands of kilograms of cocaine around the world.
Yaroshenko’s lawyer, who in 2020 unsuccessfully sought his client’s release after his release on humanitarian grounds due to the coronavirus pandemic, did not respond to an email seeking comment on Wednesday.
Russia had sought Yaroshenko’s return for years while also rejecting petitions from high-ranking US officials to release Reid, who was nearing his 1,000th day in custody after being convicted over what one US official, Ambassador John Sullivan, called “laughable” evidence.
The prisoner exchange was the highlight during the Biden administration to release an American wrongfully detained abroad, and it came even after families of detainees who had met over the past year with administration officials in charge described them as being kind to the idea of an exchange.
The US government does not usually adopt such exchanges. She fears that this will encourage foreign governments to take more Americans as prisoners as a way to extract concessions. She is concerned about a possible false equivalence between an unjustly detained American – US officials believe Reed was – and a properly convicted criminal.
In this case, though, the US decided the deal made sense in part because Yaroshenko had already served a long portion of his prison sentence, which has now been commuted, a senior official told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.
In a statement, the Reed family thanked Biden, “for making the decision to bring Trevor home,” other administration officials, and Bill Richardson, the former US ambassador to the United Nations. The family said that Richardson had traveled to Moscow in the previous hours Ukraine war has begun Hoping to secure Reed’s release.
Reed’s release had no immediate impact on the cases of other Americans held by Russia. Greiner, for example, was arrested in February after Russian authorities said a search of her bag revealed cigarette cartridges containing oil derived from cannabis. Whelan is being held on espionage charges that his family says are fictitious.
“We won’t stop until Paul Whelan and others join Trevor in the loving embrace of family and friends,” Biden said Wednesday. US officials have described Whelan as being unjustly detained, but they have yet to describe Grenier’s case in these terms. Whelan was convicted and sentenced to 16 years in prison; Griner awaits trial.
At home in Texas, the Reeds were given a general sense of progress, and they even began cleaning Trevor’s room in preparation for his return home, removing sheets from his bed so he had a place to sleep.
It was a welcome turnaround a month ago when they were demonstrating outside the White House for their son’s release and then pressed their case in a private meeting with Biden.
“We said over a year ago if we could just talk to the president, that we felt we could make this thing happen — and that’s exactly what happened,” said Joy Reed.