Thursday April 28, 2022

Russia, US release prisoners in surprise exchange

Russia, US release prisoners in surprise exchange

Russian service members escort former US Marine Trevor Reed, as part of a prisoner swap between the US and Russia, in Moscow, Russia on Wednesday. Reuters

Russia and the United States have carried out an unexpected prisoner exchange in a time of high tensions, trading on Wednesday a Marine veteran jailed by Moscow for a convicted Russian drug trafficker serving a long prison sentence in America.

The deal involving Trevor Reed, an American imprisoned for nearly three years, would have been a notable diplomatic maneuver even in times of peace but it was all the more surprising because it was done as Russia's war with Ukraine has driven relations with the US to their lowest point in decades.


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On the other end of the swap was Konstantin Yaroshenko, a Russian pilot who’d been serving a 20-year federal sentence for conspiring to smuggle cocaine into the US.

Russia, US release prisoners in surprise exchange
US ex-marine Trevor Reed stands inside a defendants’ cage during a court hearing in Moscow. AFP

Even as the Biden administration trumpeted the swap, it made clear the resolution did not herald a broader breakthrough between the countries. Russian forces remain determined in their assault on Ukraine, the US and Western allies continue to impose punishing sanctions and other Americans, including WNBA star Brittney Griner and Michigan corporate security executive Paul Whelan, still remain jailed in Russia.

The swap, the culmination of longstanding requests by both countries as well as private diplomatic wrangling, took place in Turkey when "the two planes pulled up side by side, essentially, and then they got out,” said Reed's father, Joey.

"I think it’s going to really hit home for him and for us when we finally get to see him and touch him,” he said in an interview with The Associated Press.

Russia, US release prisoners in surprise exchange
Joey and Paula Reed, parents of Trevor Reed, walk back to their home in Granbury, Texas, on Wednesday. AP

Reed, a 30-year-old former Marine from Texas, was arrested in the summer of 2019 after Russian authorities said he assaulted an officer while being driven by police to a police station following a night of heavy drinking. He was later sentenced to nine years in prison, though the US government has described him as unjustly detained and pressed for his release while his family has asserted his innocence and expressed concerns about his deteriorating health - which included coughing up blood and a hunger strike.

Even on Wednesday, his parents' joy was mitigated by the concern they said they felt about his physical appearance. They were struck by his unsteady gait and how thin he looked as TV footage captured him walking, flanked by guards, from a van to the jet.

"He just didn’t sound like himself,” said Reed's mother, Paula, recounting their brief phone conversation while he was on the plane. "We just asked him how he was doing and he said, ‘I’m fine.’ But he always says that even when he isn’t. And he just didn’t sound like his normal self.”

Reed was en route back to the US, traveling with Roger Cartsens, the US government’s special presidential envoy for hostage affairs.

Associated Press

 

 

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