After being held in a Russian prison for three years, Russia finally frees former US Marine Trevor Reed in exchange for a Russian drug trafficker who had been serving a 20-year federal sentence in the US.
The prisoner exchange comes as a surprise as Moscow and Washington have not had good diplomatic relations due to the United States leading the supporting war effort in Ukraine, with the US providing Kyiv with $3.7 billion in security and economic assistance since February 24.
The prisoner swap was a culmination of long negotiations, which eventually did happen in Turkey. Reed was seen being brought to Vnukovo airport before arriving in Turkey as he was followed by Russian state TV. According to reports, the two planes pulled up side by side, and the two individuals got out to exchange places.
Footage of Trevor Reed taken to #Moscow's Vnukovo airport, before flying home to the US. He had been jailed since 2019. when he was convicted with attacking a policeman. US and his family had insisted that his jailing was unjustly pic.twitter.com/rDcU8hufFI
— Guy Elster (@guyelster) April 27, 2022
“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, Trevor’s father, said in an interview with CNN.
Video of the US and Russia swapping former marine Trevor Reed, formerly imprisoned in Russia, for convicted drug smuggler Alexei Yaroshenko on a runway in Turkey. Real bridge of spies Cold War vibes pic.twitter.com/5iiURYie83
— max seddon (@maxseddon) April 27, 2022
How did Reed get into Russian custody? Reed is a former US Marine from Texas who was arrested in the summer of 2019. The 3o-year-old Marine got into trouble when Russian authorities reported that Reed was drunk and assaulted a Russian officer while being driven by the police to a police station after he got drunk. He was then sentenced to 9 years, to which the US said that he was unjustly detained and repeatedly claimed Reed was innocent. His family, for three years, also believed Reed was innocent.
On the other side of the deal was Russian pilot Konstantin Yaroshenko. The Rostov-on-Don, Russia native, was detained by the US in 2011. He was arrested in Liberia the year prior for conspiracy to engage in drug smuggling. He was later found guilty of the crime of conspiring to import more than $100 million worth of cocaine into the US.
He served in the military before his drug smuggling stint. The former pilot allegedly struggled to make a living after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, thus leading him to a life of crime. According to reports, he received an offer to move cocaine from South America into Liberia, which would then be transported to the United States, African nations, and European countries. However, to his bad luck, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) had already been tipped off and was watching him. He and his partner, Nigerian national Chigbo Peter, bribed an undercover DEA agent posing as a “business partner,” which ultimately tied the Russian to the drug smuggling ring.
In response to his conviction, the Russian government called for the US to return the Russian drug smuggler to their country. They claimed that Yaroshenko was “kidnapped from another country, subjected to a sadistic beating, then convicted on very dubious charges.”
President Biden welcomed Reed back into the United States as tensions with Russia ran high, going on to its third month.
“Today, we welcome home Trevor Reed and celebrate his return to the family that missed him dearly. Trevor, a former U.S. Marine, is free from Russian detention. I heard in the voices of Trevor’s parents how much they’ve worried about his health and missed his presence. And I was delighted to be able to share with them the good news about Trevor’s freedom,” the President said in a statement.
President Biden also thanked Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs Roger Carstens and U.S. Ambassador to the Russian Federation John Sullivan for facilitating the exchange.
“The negotiations that allowed us to bring Trevor home required difficult decisions that I do not take lightly. His safe return is a testament to the priority my Administration places on bringing home Americans held hostage and wrongfully detained abroad,” the President continued.
The Reed Family also thanked the Biden administration for bringing Trevor home, as well as other government officials who helped with the efforts to get their son back to US soil.
“Today, our prayers have been answered, and Trevor is safely on his way back to the United States,” the statement read. They also sent their support to other American families who had their relatives “wrongfully detained” in Russia.
Multiple Americans are still detained in Russia, one being 31-year-old WNBA star Brittney Griner who was detained as Russian officials said they found vape cartridges with oil derived from cannabis in her luggage while at an airport in Moscow.
Another former US Marine held in Russia is Paul Whelan, who is detained in Russia for suspicion of spying. He was arrested last 2018 and sentenced to 16 years in jail last 2020. According to former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the US was outraged by the conviction as the trial itself was secret and had “secret evidence, and without appropriate allowances for defense witnesses.”
“Russia failed to provide Mr. Whelan with a fair hearing before an independent and impartial tribunal, and during his detention has put his life at risk by ignoring his long-standing medical condition and unconscionably kept him isolated from family and friends,” Pompeo said in 2020.
Biden, through a statement, also said that “We won’t stop until Paul Whelan and others join Trevor in the loving arms of family and friends.”