US Marine veteran Trevor Reed is on his way home after being released from Russia, where authorities said he had been wrongly detained since 2019.
“Today, our prayers have been answered and Trevor is returning safely to the United States,” his family said in a letter. statement.
Reid’s release came as part of a prisoner swap with Russia that sent back Russian pilot Konstantin Yaroshenko, who was convicted in 2011 to 20 years in prison for importing more than $100 million worth of cocaine to the US.
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 unusual by the complete collapse of relations between Washington and Moscow over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
President Joe Biden, who met with Reid’s family last month, said in a statement Wednesday that negotiations to release him “require tough decisions that I do not take lightly.”
“I heard in Trevor’s voice how worried his parents were about his health and missing his presence,” Biden said. “And I was delighted to share with them the good news of Trevor’s freedom.”
Reid, 30, was jailed on charges of drunken assault on a police officer, but his family and US diplomats said he was innocent, describing the evidence against him at trial as “incriminating” and “absurd”. Instead, he said, he was held up as a bargaining chip.
In recent weeks, Reid’s health deteriorated and he was hospitalized with signs of tuberculosis and a possible broken rib, according to the State Department, making his release more urgent.
Reid’s family said Biden’s decision to go ahead with the prisoner exchange may have saved the former Marine’s life. He had previously expressed fears that Reed could suffer the same fate as Otto Warmbier, an American student held captive for 17 months in North Korea, who fell into a coma and died after his 2017 release.
The State Department has previously declined to identify exactly how many Americans are detained in Russia, but there are at least two high-profile inmates who remain behind bars there: Paul Whelan and WNBA star Brittney Griner.
Whelan, another ex-Marine, has been in long-term detention since he was first arrested in late 2018 and accused of being a US spy. His family denied this, but he was sentenced to 16 years in prison in 2020.
Former Justice Department official Ryan Fahey, who is acting as an attorney for the Whelan family, said he had “complex emotions” about Wednesday’s news.
“They want what’s best for the family, but they see this as a missed opportunity,” Fayhey said, pointing to the different crimes for which the two swapped inmates were convicted. “That’s a pretty high price to pay. If you make a comparison between the two people who went home today, it’s a missed opportunity not to include Paul.”
He called on Biden to meet with the Whelans, as he did with the Reeds, and consider alternatives to a prisoner exchange to free them.