space traveling warriors tier list : Inside the months-long effort to free Trevor Reed from detention in Russia

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An American plane stopped alongside a Russian on a runway in Turkey, two prisoners disembarked and were escorted simultaneously to the opposite aircraft, where American Reed was greeted by Presidential Special Envoy for Hostage Affairs Roger Carstens and Russian citizen Konstantin Yaroshenko met with a representative of their government.

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

According to State Department spokesman Ned Price, Reed “was released as soon as the sentence of a Russian pilot” – Yaroshenko – was commuted.

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

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

American Trevor Reed released from Russia in exchange for prisoners

Behind the scenes, officials inside and outside the U.S. government have been working for years to free Reed, including “months and months of painstaking and painstaking work across the U.S. government,” an administration official told CNN, which took place in the context of rising tensions between Washington and Moscow, dramatically exacerbated by Russia’s brutal war in Ukraine.

The US government’s efforts were largely led by US Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan – whose staff in Moscow was reduced by Russian government restrictions – and Carstens’ staff. The case has also been raised at the highest levels, including by Biden, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and “other channels” in the US government, a family source said.

But for months — since Biden met Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva last June — the US government has grappled with the issue of allowing a prisoner exchange that would free Americans held in Russia, another familiar source told CNN.

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

Crucial pre-war meeting

In February, in the days immediately before Russia’s war in Ukraine, members of the Richardson Center – which privately defends the families of hostages and detainees – were invited to Moscow to meet with Russian leadership, the second source said. The National Security Council was advised that the trip was taking place and there were talks between the Richardson Center and the NSC before and after.

After the visit, the Richardson Center left with a clear sense of what the Russians were willing to do and how willing they were to do it. This was presented to the White House with the hope that it would act on the advice — and quickly, the source said.

It was a culmination of factors surrounding Reed’s case — his deteriorating health, his family’s activism that led to a meeting with Biden, and the situation in Ukraine — that led Biden to authorize the exchange for Yaroshenko, according to the second source.

Indeed, these health concerns for Reed have given urgency to the Biden administration’s efforts to get him home from Russia, according to several sources, including Price.

Reed’s family said he had Covid-19, was exposed to tuberculosis and told them in March that he was “coughing up blood several times a day with a fever and still having lung pain”.

Russian hacking in Ukraine has been extensive and intertwined with military operations, says MicrosoftRussian hacking in Ukraine has been extensive and intertwined with military operations, says Microsoft

These growing concerns about Reed’s health prompted the government to have “a more focused conversation on what it would take to make this happen in the short term”, in the words of the first family source.

That source explained that there were warnings to Moscow that it would be bad for both the United States and Russia if his health deteriorated while he was still in detention.

US officials “emphasized that if these health conditions deteriorate, that is obviously very, very bad for us because we want to keep Americans healthy and safe. But it would also be very bad for them,” the source said, referring to up to the Russians.

personal appeals

The second source noted that the switch also took place after the Reeds met directly with Biden — the only family of an inmate to do so.

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

This meeting came after immense public pressure and family appeals. When Biden was visiting Texas last month for an event on veterans’ health care, Reed’s parents sought a meeting at the White House. When they were denied, the Reeds stood outside where Biden was speaking, hoping to get his attention when he arrived.

Paul Whelan, an American detained in Russia, wonders why he was left behindPaul Whelan, an American detained in Russia, wonders why he was left behind

It worked, to some extent; as he was arriving in his limousine, the couple caught Biden’s attention with their sign, and he pointed in their direction. But the motorcade did not stop.

Later, in a phone call, Biden told the Reeds that he prayed the rosary for his son aboard Air Force One as it flew south. He told them that he “thinks about Trevor every day”. Biden told the couple that someone from the White House would call back.

Days and weeks passed without news and the Reeds were frustrated that their direct appeal seemed to be fading from memory.

So they went to Biden’s front yard, holding up his sign in Lafayette Park across from the White House, and said they would stay until Biden met them.

“We wanted to be here to bring attention to the Trevor case and let them know we haven’t forgotten. We’re waiting for the call. We want the meeting the president promised us,” Paula Reed said on the morning of March 30.

It wasn’t just the president’s attention the Reeds were looking for. They came to Washington with a specific request: that Biden consider a prisoner exchange that could lead to his son’s release.

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

“He listened carefully to everything we had to say until we were done talking. We couldn’t have asked for more,” Joey Reed said later.

‘A very difficult decision’

A senior government official told reporters on Wednesday that negotiations with the Russians “led the president to make a very difficult decision with the decision to commute the sentence of Konstantin Yaroshenko, a Russian smuggler convicted of conspiring to import cocaine.”

According to the first source, the Russian government has long expressed an interest in bringing Yaroshenko back from the United States.

The US does not see an equivalence between the two cases as it considers Reed to be wrongfully detained and Yaroshenko has been convicted in the US court system, but this was Russia’s “consistent demand”, they said, noting that it is something “they they have accessible to discuss and, really, a step further, negotiate for several months, that they have something they want, they have people they would like to have at home.”

The first source did not say whether Yaroshenko is explicitly linked to the Kremlin. Although the second source said he had talked about having close ties with Putin, there are still doubts about the real closeness of their relationship.

Although the Justice Department was not “actively involved in these negotiations with the Russians,” they had to authorize Yaroshenko’s release, the first source said.

Russia changes tactics, speeds up attack in eastern and southern UkraineRussia changes tactics, speeds up attack in eastern and southern Ukraine

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

Biden is regularly briefed on hostage and detainee cases, the source said, and received advice from his office in making the decision on the prisoner exchange that released Reed from Russian detention.

“This is a difficult decision for a president,” said the senior administration official.

“You can’t free these Americans for free,” former Governor Bill Richardson, head of the eponymous center, said in an interview with CNN on Wednesday. “There’s always a price, but for that, it was worth it.”

The authorities stressed that these were negotiations on “a discreet issue on which we managed to reach an agreement with the Russians”.

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

A second high-ranking official told CNN he doesn’t necessarily see that success translating into momentum in the case of Paul Whelan or Brittney Griner, other Americans detained in Russia, although the US government continues to press for their release and the conduit for potential swaps. will remain open.

Meanwhile, Whelan is questioning why he was left behind in the prisoner exchange that freed Reed.

“Why was I left behind? While I am pleased that Trevor is home with his family, I have been detained on a fictitious spy charge for 40 months,” Whelan said in a statement to his parents and shared with CNN. “The world knows this accusation was fabricated. Why hasn’t more been done to secure my release?”

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