US and Russia swap prisoners Reed and Yaroshenko amid war tensions 2022-04-28 03:42:00


  • Reed was convicted of endangering the lives of Russian police
  • Yaroshenko was convicted of conspiracy to smuggle cocaine
  • The United States is also working to free another American detained in Russia

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States and Russia exchanged prisoners on Wednesday amid the most strained relations in decades over the war in Ukraine, with the release of former U.S. Marine Trevor Reid in exchange for Russian pilot Konstantin Yaroshenko.

US officials said the exchange was not part of broader diplomatic talks and did not represent a US change in approach to Ukraine. Russian-American relations were at their worst since the Cold War era in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24 and subsequent Western sanctions imposed on Moscow.

State Department spokesman Ned Price said Reed, who is from Texas, is expected to return to the United States on Wednesday evening. Senior US officials said the 30-year-old was “in good spirits”.

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“Today we welcome Trevor Reid home and celebrate his return to the family who missed him so much,” President Joe Biden said in a statement, noting the parents’ concerns about their son’s health.

“The negotiations that allowed us to bring Trevor home required tough decisions that I don’t take lightly,” Biden added.

Asked later on Wednesday how he was able to raise the issue of Reade’s arrest amid broader tensions with Russia over Ukraine, Biden said, “I did. I raised him. I raised him three months ago.”

Reed was convicted in Russia in 2019 of endangering the lives of two police officers while visiting Moscow. The United States described his trial as a “theater of the absurd.”

US officials said Biden had commuted the sentence of Yaroshenko, a Russian pilot who was arrested by US special forces in Liberia in 2010 and convicted of conspiring to smuggle cocaine into the United States. Russia had proposed an exchange of prisoners for Yaroshenko in July 2019 in exchange for the release of any Americans.

The exchange took place in Turkey, and the United States thanked Turkey, a NATO ally, for its assistance in the exchange. Russian news agencies reported that Yaroshenko then flew from Ankara to Sochi and finally to Moscow. Rossiya 1, Russia’s main national news channel, showed a video showing his wife and daughter cuddling Yaroshenko, gleefully jumping up and down, on a runway at Moscow’s airport.

Biden and his Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said they are working on the release of another American being held in Russia, Paul Whelan, also a former Marine.

Joey and Paula Reed, Trevor Reed’s parents, thanked Biden and others, saying in a statement that “the president’s action may have saved Trevor’s life.”

His father, Joy, later told reporters that they had two phone calls with their son on Wednesday.

“He didn’t look like him[on the first call],” said Joey Reed. “On the second call, he looked more like him. He must have gotten some fluids and food. He was cracking jokes.”

A video clip for Russian state television, broadcast by CNN, showed Red, looking skinny and wearing a dark coat, backed by men in camouflage clothing on both sides. Russian state media described the video as showing Reid at an airport in Russia.

“He looks awful to us. As his parents, we know he doesn’t look good,” Paula Reed told CNN outside their home in Granbury, Texas.

“The American plane stopped next to the Russian plane and the two prisoners walked, as you can see in the movies,” Joy Reed told CNN.

Biden met Joey and Paula Reed on March 30. The following week, the parents said a prisoner exchange appeared to be the only way to get Reed home and urged the White House to take all possible steps.

Senior Biden administration officials said the months of tense diplomacy that led to Reade’s release focused strictly on ensuring his freedom and were not the beginning of discussions on other issues. Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said the exchange came after a lengthy negotiation process.

Russian news agencies reported on April 4 that Reed had ended his hunger strike and was being treated at his prison medical center. The Department of Corrections said Reed went on a hunger strike on March 28 in protest of the disciplinary measures against him.

Reed’s parents said at the time that he had been exposed to an inmate with active tuberculosis in December. The prison service said Reed had repeatedly tested negative for tuberculosis.

Al Reed said their son will tell his story when he’s ready.

“We were respectfully asking for some privacy while treating the myriad of health problems caused by the squalid conditions he was exposed to in his Russian military camp,” they said.

Biden said his administration would continue to work for the release of Whelan and others. Whelan is being held on espionage charges, which he denies and compares to a political kidnapping.

Whelan’s family said they were concerned that the deal with Russia over Yaroshenko had dampened prospects for Whelan’s release.

“Is President Biden’s failure to bring Paul home an admission that some issues are difficult to resolve?” They asked in a statement. “Whoever is saved is the choice of the president.”

American basketball star Britney Greiner, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, was arrested at Moscow airport on February 17 when a search of her luggage revealed several cannabis oil cartridges. She faces up to 10 years in prison.

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(Reporting by Doina Chiako, Humira Pamuk, Simon Lewis, Susan Heffy, Trevor Honeycutt in Washington, Barbara Goldberg in New York, and David Younggren in Ottawa; Editing by Will Dunham, Chizu Nomiyama and Leslie Adler

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