Give Joe Biden credit for pulling this off in the middle of a full-blown economic war with Vladimir Putin. Former Marine Trevor Reed’s three-year ordeal in Russia has abruptly ended this morning, freed in exchange for a Russian pilot imprisoned for drug smuggling in the US. As Jim Sciutto notes, it demonstrates that diplomatic channels between the US and Russia are still operating:
American Trevor Reed, a US citizen and former Marine who has 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.
“Our family has been living a nightmare. Today, our prayers have been answered and Trevor is safely on his way back to the United States,” Reed’s family said in a statement.
Reed’s release is part of a prisoner swap for Russian citizen Konstantin Yaroshenko, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on her official Telegram channel.
It’s interesting that this case got resolved ahead of a couple of others. Axios reminds us that this still leaves two other high-profile cases of Americans imprisoned in Russia:
Reed was one of at least three high-profile cases of an American being held in Russian prisons.
WNBA player Brittney Griner was detained last month on drug charges, and former Marine Paul Whelan, who was detained in December 2018 on spying charges, was sentenced to 16 years in prison in June 2020.
The State Department in early March urged Americans to leave Russia “immediately” because of the country’s unprovoked invasion on Ukraine and later warned that the Russian government may be intentionally seeking out Americans for detention.
The US denies that Whelan was involved in espionage, but if he was, prioritizing Reed might raise a few eyebrows in the intel community. Whelan has also been held longer and in reportedly worse conditions, so it would normally follow that the US would focus on his case first. However, Reed’s parents have mounted an impassioned and effective public-relations campaign on his behalf, including a demonstration in Texas in the path of Joe Biden’s motorcade, which initially got ignored by Biden but later prompted Biden to follow up with the Reeds. It’s a demonstration that such efforts matter.
As for Griner, that was more recent. It’s worth noting that the Reeds have publicly supporter Griner as well, telling reporters that they were “highly skeptical” that Griner brought hash-oil vape cartridges into Russia. The celebrity nature of Griner’s plight might have put more pressure on Biden to prioritize her release, but Reed’s case at least takes precedence over hers in terms of time and connection to American military service. This swap still raises some expectations for the Biden administration in dealing for Griner and especially Whelan.
Sciutto and John Berman comment in the above clip that the diplomatic channels that produced this prisoner swap could also produce other breakthroughs with the Putin regime. Color me skeptical in that regard, but anything’s possible, I suppose. One has to wonder exactly what Putin got out of this swap other than the 1:1 exchange for a Russian drug-smuggling pilot. If that’s all Putin got, then it might reflect on his desperation to produce some positive news for his captive domestic audience, which would be good news. If we made other concessions to Putin for this swap — say, concessions to Iran on a nuke deal that would put billions of dollars into his oligarch pals’ pockets — then it’s bad news on several levels.
Those concerns don’t involve the Reed family, however, and shouldn’t impinge on their happiness. Welcome home, Trevor, and hopefully Paul and Brittney can join the party soon.
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