US Marine veteran Trevor Reed is on his way home after being released from Russia, where officials said he was wrongfully detained since 2019.
“Today, our prayers have been answered and Trevor is safely on his way back to the United States,” his family said in a statement.
Reed’s release came as part of a prisoner swap with Russia, with the US sending back Konstantin Yaroshenko, a Russian pilot sentenced in 2011 to a 20-year prison term for importing more than $100 million of cocaine.
The surprise prisoner exchange was the result of long and difficult negotiations between the US and Russia, according to both countries. The fraught diplomacy was made all the more extraordinary because of the utter collapse of relations between Washington and Moscow over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
President Joe Biden, who met with the Reed family last month, said in a statement on Wednesday that the negotiations to release him “required difficult decisions that I do not take lightly.”
“I heard in the voices of Trevor’s parents how much they’ve worried about his health and missed his presence,” Biden said. “And I was delighted to be able to share with them the good news about Trevor’s freedom.”
Reed, 30, was imprisoned for allegedly assaulting a police officer while he was drunk, but his family and US diplomats said he was innocent, describing the evidence against him at trial as “preposterous” and “absurd.” Instead, they said he was being held as a bargaining chip.
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In recent weeks, Reed’s health had deteriorated and he had been hospitalized with signs of tuberculosis and a possible broken rib, according to the State Department, making his release all the more urgent.
Reed’s family said Biden’s decision to go ahead with the prisoner swap may have saved the former Marine’s life. They had previously expressed fears that Reed might suffer the same fate as Otto Warmbier, the American student held for 17 months in North Korea who went into a coma after his 2017 release and died.
The State Department has previously declined to identify exactly how many Americans have been detained in Russia, but there are at least two high-profile prisoners who remain behind bars there: Paul Whelan and WNBA star Brittney Griner.
Whelan, another former Marine, has been detained the longest, having been first arrested at the end of 2018, and accused of being an American spy. His family has denied this, but he was sentenced in 2020 to 16 years in prison.
Ryan Fayhee, a former Justice Department official now acting as a pro bono attorney for the Whelan family, said they had “complex feelings” about Wednesday’s news.
“They wish the family the very best, but they also view this as a missed opportunity,” Fayhee said, pointing to the different crimes the two swapped prisoners were convicted of. “It was a pretty high price to pay. If you make a comparison between the two people who’ve gone home today, to not include Paul in that is a missed opportunity.”
Fayhee called on Biden to meet with the Whelans like he did with the Reeds, and consider alternative options than prisoner exchanges in order to free him.