By Spy Uganda Correspondent
Russia and the United States have carried out a prisoner exchange, trading a Marine veteran jailed in Moscow for a convicted Russian drug trafficker serving a long prison sentence in America.
The surprise deal involving Trevor Reed, an American jailed in Russia for nearly three years, would have been a notable diplomatic maneuver even in times of peace, but it was all the more extraordinary because it was done as Russia’s war with Ukraine has driven relations with the US to their lowest point in decades.
The US agreed to return Konstantin Yaroshenko, a Russian pilot serving a 20-year federal prison sentence for conspiracy to smuggle cocaine into the US after he was arrested in Liberia in 2010 and extradited.
Mr Reed, a former Marine from Texas, was arrested in August 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 his family has maintained his innocence and the US government described him as unjustly detained and expressed concern about his declining health.
“Today, our prayers have been answered and Trevor is on his way back safely to the United States,” Mr Reed’s family said in a statement.
The Reeds thanked US President Joe Biden and others, saying “our family has been living a nightmare” for the past 985 days.
“The president’s action may have saved Trevor’s life,” they said.
Mr Biden, who met with Mr Reed’s parents in Washington last month, welcomed his release and said “the negotiations that allowed us to bring Trevor home required difficult decisions that I do not take lightly”.
“Trevor’s safe return is a testament to the priority we place on bringing home Americans held hostage and wrongfully detained abroad,” he tweeted.
The Russian foreign ministry described the exchange as the “result of a long negotiation process”.
Detained Putin Ally Calls For Prisoner Swap
The two prisoners were swapped in a European country.
Though officials would not say where the transfer took place, in the hours before it happened commercial flight trackers identified a plane belonging to Russia’s federal security service as flying to Ankara, Turkey.
Speaking to reporters in a briefing call, US officials said Mr Reed was on his way to being reunited with his parents in the United States and was in good spirits.
US Says Deal Makes Sense
The prisoner swap marks the highest-profile release during the Biden administration of an American deemed wrongly detained abroad, and comes even as families of detainees who have met over the last year with administration officials had described them as cool to the idea of an exchange.
The US government does not typically embrace such exchanges for fear that they might encourage foreign governments to take additional Americans as prisoners as a way to extract concessions and to avoid a potential false equivalency between an unjustly detained American — which US officials believe Reed was — and a properly convicted criminal.
In this case, though, a US official said the deal made sense in part because Yaroshenko had already served a long portion of his prison sentence, which has now been commuted.