Inside the months-long effort to free Trevor Reed from detention in Russia

An American plane pulls out of a Russian one on a tarmac in Turkey, two prisoners disembarked and escorted simultaneously across the opposite aircraft, where American Reed was greeted his government.

After more than two years in Russian detention, Reed was heading back to the United States.

According to State Department spokesperson Ned Price, Reed “was released just as a Russian pilot” – Yaroshenko – was commuted.

“This was a decision that the president made,” Price said in an interview with CNN.

President Joe Biden said he raised the issue with the Russians “three months ago.”

Prisoner swap in Russia from American Trevor Reed released

Behind the scenes, officials from both the US government have been working for years to get Reed released, including “months and months of hard work across the US government,” one administration official told CNN, The growing tensions between Washington and Moscow, exacerbated dramatically by Russia’s brutal war on Ukraine.

The US government efforts have been led by the US Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan – whose staff has been winnowed down by Russian government restrictions – and Carstens’ team. The case was also raised at the highest levels, including by Biden, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and “other channels” of the US government, a source familiar with the matter said.

But for months, since June, the US government has faced a question of a prisoner swap that would free the Americans, says CNN.

The release of a prisoner from the US custody is a decision of the President, but also requires approval from the Department of Justice, and has rarely happened. And even in this case, when Biden made the decision to authorize the swap, Reed’s release was not instantaneous.

Crucial pre-war meeting

In February, the days before the Russian War in Ukraine, members of the Richardson Center – which privately advocated for families of hostages and detainees – were invited to meet with the Russian leadership, the second source said. The National Security Council advised that the trip was happening, and there were conversions between the Richardson Center and the NSC before and after.

Following the visit, the Richardson Center came away with a clear sense of what the Russians were willing to do and how they were willing to do it. This was presented to the White House with the hope that it would act on the advice – and soon, the source said.

Reed’s case around the factors of culmination – his deteriorating health, his family’s activism that led to a meeting with Biden, and the situation in Ukraine – authorized a swap for Yaroshenko, according to The Second Source.

In fact, those concerns are about Reed’s health lent urgency to the Biden administration’s efforts to get him home from Russia, according to multiple sources.

Reed’s family said he had Covid-19, who was exposed to tuberculosis, and told them in March that he had “coughing up blood multiple times a day, running a fever, and still experiencing pain in his lungs.”

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Reed’s health led the administration to have “a more focused conversation about what might be needed in the near term,” the first source familiar with the words said.

He was still detained while his health failed in the United States and Russia.

US officials “must emphasize that those health conditions are deteriorating, and that they are very, very bad for us. We need to keep them healthy and safe.

Personal pleas

The second source noted that the swap also came after the Reeds met directly with Biden – the only family of a detainee to do so.

“We believe that meeting with the president is what made it happen,” Joey Reed said Wednesday, calling his wife Paula “a tipping point.”

After that meeting came the public pressure and appeals of an immense amount of money to the family. When Biden was visiting Texas last month for an event with veterans’ health care, Reed’s parents sought a meeting at the White House. When they were denied, the Reeds stood outside the venue, where Biden was speaking, as he approached his attention.

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It worked, to some extent; As he was arriving in his limousine, the couple caught Biden’s eye with their sign, and he pointed in their direction. But the motorcade didn’t stop.

Later, in a phone call, Biden told Reeds he’d prayed for the rosary as their son aboard Air Force One as he was flying south. He told them he “thinks of Trevor every day.” Biden told the couple someone from the White House would call them back.

Days and then weeks passed without a word and the Reeds had grown frustrated that their direct appeal appeared to be fading from memory.

So they came to Biden’s front yard, raising their sign in Lafayette Park across from the White House and saying they would stay until Biden met.

“Trevor’s case and the letting go of the attention we want to bring to our attention. We are waiting for the phone call. We want the meeting the President promised us,” Paula Reed said on The Morning of March 30.

It’s not just the president’s attention seeking reeds. They came to Washington with a specific request: that Biden consider a prisoner swap that could lead to the release of their son.

By midday, Biden had directed his team to set up a meeting and met with Paula and Joey Reed inside the Oval Office later that day.

“He listened intently to everything we had to say. We couldn’t have asked for more,” Joey Reed said afterward.

‘A very hard decision’

A senior administration official told reporters Wednesday that the Russians “led the president to have a very hard decision to make.

According to the first source, the Russian government had long expressed interest in getting back to Yaroshenko from the United States.

The US court system does not see the two cases, but they have been wrongfully detained and Yaroshenko has been convicted in the US court system, but this was Russia’s “consistent demand,” they said, noting it’s something. Amenable to discussing and, even really, one step further, negotiating for a number of months now, that they have something they want, they have a home that they will have. “

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Although the Department of Justice “actively involved these negotiations with the Russians,” they did to authorize the release of Yaroshenko, the first source said.

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“It’s a conversation that we’ve had with the Department of Justice for a while now,” the source told CNN, but noted that “it’s the president’s call to make.”

Biden is a frequently held apprised of hostage and detainee cases, the source said, and received his advice in his Cabinet of Decision making a prisoner swap that freed Reed from Russian detention.

“This is a tough call for a president,” the senior administration official said.

“You don’t get these Americans released for free,” said former Gov. Bill Richardson, head of The Eponymous Center, in an interview on CNN Wednesday. “There’s always a price, but for this, it’s worth it.”

Officials stressed that these were negotiations on “a discrete issue on which we could make an arrangement with the Russians.”

“This represents no change – zero – to our approach to appalling violence in Ukraine,” a senior administration official said.

A second senior official told CNN they do not see this as a success in translating the case to Paul Whelan or Brittney Griner, who detained other Americans in Russia, while the US government will continue to press for their release, and the channel for potential swaps will remain open.

In the meantime, Whelan is questioning why he left the prisoner swap that freed Reed.

“Why Did I Left Behind? While I Am pleased Trevor is home with his family, I have been held for 40 months for a fictitious charge of espionage,” Whelan said in a statement to his parents and shared with CNN. “The world knows this charge was fabricated. Why is more done to secure my release?”

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