US Navy veteran Trevor Reed is on his way home after being released from Russia, where officials said he had been 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. statement.
Reed’s release came as part of a prisoner swap with Russia, with the US returning Konstantin Yaroshenko, a Russian pilot sentenced in 2011 20 years in prison for importing more than $100 million worth of cocaine.
The surprise prisoner swap is the result of long and difficult negotiations between the United States and Russia, according to the two countries. The strained diplomacy was made all the more extraordinary by the total collapse of relations between Washington and Moscow over The Russian invasion of Ukraine.
President Joe Biden, who met with the Reed family last month, said in a statement Wednesday that negotiations to release him “required difficult decisions that I do not take lightly.”
“I heard in the voices of Trevor’s parents how worried they were for his health and missed his presence,” Biden said. “And I was thrilled to be able to share with them the good news about Trevor’s freedom.”
Reed, 30, was jailed for allegedly assaulting a police officer while drunk, but his family and US diplomats said he was innocent, describing the evidence against him at trial as being “absurd” and “absurd”.” Instead, they said it was held as a bargaining chip.
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 could suffer the same fate as Otto Warmbier, the American student detained for 17 months in North Korea who fell into a coma after his release in 2017 and died.
The State Department has previously refused to identify exactly how many Americans have been detained in Russia, but there are at least two high profile prisoners still behind bars there: Paul Whelan and WNBA star Britney Griner.
Whelan, another former Marine, was detained the longest, having been first arrest at the end of 2018, and accused of being an American spy. His family denied this, but he was sentenced in 2020 to 16 years in prison.
Ryan Fayhee, a former Justice Department official now serving as the Whelan family’s pro bono attorney, said they had “complex feelings” about Wednesday’s news.
“They wish the best for the family, but they also view this as a missed opportunity,” Fayhee said, pointing out the different crimes the two swap prisoners were convicted of. “It was quite a high price to pay. If you compare the two people who went home today, not including Paul in that is a missed opportunity.”
Fayhee called on Biden to meet with the Whelans as he did with the Reeds, and consider alternative options to prisoner swaps in order to free him.