(Moscow) Former US Marine Trevor Reed, sentenced to nine years in Russia for violence, was exchanged on Wednesday for a Russian pilot who has been imprisoned in the US since 2010, in a prisoner swap reminiscent of the Cold War.
Posted at 7:59
Updated at 11:19 am
“On April 27, after a long negotiation process, Trevor Reed […] was exchanged for Russian citizen Konstantin Yaroshenko, who was sentenced to 20 years in prison by a US court,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told Telegram in 2011.
US President Joe Biden said he would have to make “difficult decisions” to secure the former soldier’s release.
“His safe return is a testament to the priority my administration places on the repatriation of Americans who are being held hostage and wrongfully detained abroad,” he said.
Russian television shows footage of Trevor Reed boarding a plane, dressed in black and armed with a large bag.
His father, Joey Reed, told CNN that the former soldier was transferred to Moscow this week and then put on a plane bound for Turkey.
There, “the American plane stopped next to the Russian plane and they let the two prisoners cross at the same time, like in the movie,” he said.
Trevor Reed, 30, was sentenced to nine years in prison in July 2020 for drunkenly assaulting two police officers who had been called to the scene of a party in Moscow. He denied the aggression and denounced a “political” affair amid Russian-American tensions.
Konstantin Yaroshenko was arrested by American intelligence agents in Liberia in May 2010. Charged with drug trafficking in connection with the FARC in Colombia, he was taken to the United States and sentenced to 20 years in prison.
This prisoner swap has “no” impact on relations between the two countries, according to a US official.
“Victory of Justice”
Trevor Reed was held in a penal colony in Mordovia, 500 km east of Moscow, and went on a hunger strike in November 2021 to protest the conditions of his detention.
His lawyer, Sergei Nikitenkov, claimed that he had been placed in solitary confinement on several occasions and that the prison administration had not sent him the letters he had received. He did not ask for a pardon from the president, Nikitenkov told the Interfax news agency on Wednesday.
Konstantin Yaroshenko’s Russian lawyer, Alexei Tarasov, meanwhile, described his release as an “Easter miracle” (Russian Passover), adding that the exchange had been negotiated “for a very long time” and that the pilot’s health condition was a 50-year-old , left a lot to be desired.
In the evening, Russian television broadcast images of Yaroshenko’s emotional reunion with his wife Victoria and their daughter Ekaterina at a Moscow airport.
As soon as Mr Yaroshenko was sentenced in the US, Moscow “continuously took steps to secure his release,” Russia’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Wednesday, calling his return to Russia a “victory of justice.”
Joe Biden had pledged to do whatever he could to secure the release of Trevor Reed and other Americans “unlawfully detained” in Russia, and the possibility of a prisoner swap was regularly raised, particularly ahead of the meeting between the American President and Vladimir Putin in Geneva June 2021.
The Russian leader was open to such a possibility at the time, adding that he had “a whole list” of Russians being held in American jails.
Among the most frequently mentioned names is Paul Whelan, an American who was sentenced to 16 years in prison for espionage and has maintained his innocence. On the Russian side is the famous arms dealer Viktor Bout, who was arrested in Thailand in 2008 and is serving a 25-year sentence in the United States.
Prisoner exchanges between Moscow and the West were frequent until the end of the Cold War in 1991 and have never entirely stopped, especially since Vladimir Putin came to power in 2000.
They mostly concern spies, as in 2010 when ten members of a Russian network (illegal agents operating under false American identities) arrested by the FBI were exchanged for two Russians working for the CIA and British services and a researcher.