American Trevor Reed, a US citizen and former Marine who had been detained in Russia since 2019, has been released in a prisoner swap.
The release ends a nearly three-year ordeal for Reed, who was sentenced to nine years in prison in July 2020 for endangering the “life and health” of Russian police officers in an altercation. Reed and his family have denied the charges against him.
Reed’s release will not impact the US approach to the war in Ukraine, senior administration officials said.
His release comes after months of effort by the US government, officials said, and was particularly urgent given concerns about Reed’s health. It was ultimately secured through a prisoner swap for Russian citizen Konstantin Yaroshenko.
The exchange took place in Turkey on Wednesday, Trevor’s parents, Joey and Paula Reed, told CNN.
The couple, who spoke to their son by phone shortly after the prisoner exchange, said he had been subdued. “The first phone call we got, he did not sound like himself,” Paula Reed said Wednesday evening at a news conference outside their home in Granbury, Texas.
She said his spirits seemed better by the time they received a second call from him later in the day: “He still looks terrible, but he sounded better. He sounded more like himself.”
Trevor Reed, who was detained in Russia for nearly three years, saw Yaroshenko on the tarmac during the prisoner swap but did not say anything to him, according to his father.
“Trevor quickly told us that they – the American plane pulled up next to the Russian plane, and they walked both prisoners across at the same time like you see in the movies,” Joey Reed said earlier on CNN’s “New Day.”
The Reeds said they had also spoken to President Joe Biden on Wednesday and expressed their gratitude.
“I heard in the voices of Trevor’s parents how much they’ve worried about his health and missed his presence,” Biden said in a statement. “And I was delighted to be able to share with them the good news about Trevor’s freedom.”
Asked by CNN’s Kaitlan Collins on Wednesday whether he had been surprised by Reed’s release given Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine, Biden said: “I did it.” The President, pressed on how, continued, “I raised it,” adding, “Three months ago.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki told Collins earlier Wednesday that the President waited to notify the Reed family of their son’s freedom due to “not wanting to put anyone in a position of putting that at risk – even people who are excited and joyful and looking forward to the news.”
Pressed on whether Russia was able to extract any other conditions from the US aside from a one-to-one prisoner swap, Psaki told CNN, “There were no other conditions that I’m aware of,” later adding, “This was about one issue and topic and I don’t think we should read into it further.”
Reed’s release was the result of “months and months of hard careful work across the US government” on the matter, a senior administration official said, noting that “the conversations on this particular issue have accelerated recently to get us to this point.”
One driving factor was concern for Reed’s health. His family has expressed worry about his likely exposure to tuberculosis as well as lingering effects from having Covid-19.
The official, speaking to reporters on a background call Wednesday, said that “ultimately, those negotiations led the President to have to make a very hard decision with a decision to commute the sentence of Konstantin Yaroshenko, a Russian smuggler convicted of conspiring to import cocaine.”
Yaroshenko is a Russian pilot who had been detained in Liberia by undercover US Drug Enforcement Agency agents on May 28, 2010, and brought to the US, according to Russian state news agency TASS. He was convicted of drug smuggling in 2011 and sentenced to 20 years in prison, which he had been serving at the Federal Correctional Institution in Danbury, Connecticut. He has denied the charges against him.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry had previously raised the possibility that Yaroshenko could be returned “in exchange for any American national” held in Russia.
The official did not provide details about how or why Yaroshenko was chosen for the swap, but noted that he had served the majority of his US sentence and is now in Russian custody.
“This is a tough call for a President. President Biden made it to bring home an American whose health was a source of an intense concern, and to deliver on his commitment to resolve these hard cases and reunite Americans with their loved ones,” the official said.
Reed is now on his way back to his family in the United States.
“I’m going to try not to cry, because he doesn’t want me to cry,” Reed’s mother, Paula, told CNN’s Brianna Keilar on “New Day” Wednesday. “Obviously, I’m going to cry a little bit, give him a big hug, and just, you know, give him hugs, and it will be the four of us together again (for the first time) in a few years, so it’s going to be great.”
Reed’s father previously told CNN he believed it was likely Reed was suffering from tuberculosis, that he was coughing up blood and also had a broken rib. He said Reed went to a prison hospital but did not receive treatment and was then sent back to solitary confinement.
As Reed started a second hunger strike in protest of his treatment by Russian authorities, Reed’s parents went to protest outside of the White House in the hopes of securing a meeting with the President.
The Reeds ultimately did meet with the President at the White House for about a half hour last month.
Wednesday’s release also brought renewed attention to the case of American Paul Whelan, a US citizen and former Marine who was detained at a Moscow hotel in December 2018 and arrested on espionage charges, which he has consistently and vehemently denied. He was convicted and sentenced in June 2020 to 16 years in prison in a trial US officials denounced as unfair.
Last June, he told CNN of the grim conditions of the remote labor camp where he works in a clothing factory he called a “sweatshop” and said obtaining medical care is “very difficult.”
In his statement welcoming Reed’s release, Biden said his administration “won’t stop” until Whelan is home.
The Whelan family expressed happiness at Reed’s release but said it was a day of “varied emotions” and questions for them.
“Unfortunately, time is not on Paul’s side. Our parents are literally not getting any younger. Our hope remains that Paul will be home so they may see him once more. But each day that hope dims,” his brother David Whelan said in a statement Wednesday.
Meanwhile, US basketball star Brittney Griner remains detained in Russia after she was arrested in February on allegations of drug smuggling. A Moscow court recently extended her detention until May 19, according to Russian state news agency TASS.
While her legal team has had access to her and was able to see her several times a week throughout her detention, a US official from the US embassy in Moscow was finally granted consular access to Griner in late March, and said they found her to be in “good condition.”
Ned Price, a State Department spokesman, told CNN’s Jim Sciutto on Wednesday that the cases remain top priorities for the US.
Psaki echoed Price’s sentiment, saying Wednesday that the White House will “continue to do everything they can” to secure the release of Whelan, Griner and other Americans still detained in Russia.
This story has been updated with additional background information and reaction.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism