U.S. ex-Marine Trevor Reed, who was detained in 2019 and accused of assaulting police officers, gestures inside a defendants' cage during a court hearing in Moscow, Russia March 11, 2020.
U.S. ex-Marine Trevor Reed, who was detained in 2019 and accused of assaulting police officers, gestures inside a defendants' cage during a court hearing in Moscow, Russia March 11, 2020. Reuters / TATYANA MAKEYEVA

The United States and Russia swapped prisoners on Wednesday amid their most tense relations in decades over the war in Ukraine, with former U.S. Marine Trevor Reed released in exchange for Russian pilot Konstantin Yaroshenko.

The swap, announced by both countries, was the result of months of work and did not involve negotiations on any other of the sensitive topics involving the United States and Russia, U.S. officials said. Russian-American ties have been at their worst since the Cold War era following Russia's Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine and subsequent Western sanctions imposed on Moscow.

Reed, from Texas, was on his way to be reunited with his family in the United States, senior Biden administration officials said, with one saying the 30-year-old was in "good spirits."

"Today, we welcome home Trevor Reed and celebrate his return to the family that missed him dearly," President Joe Biden said in a statement, noting their concerns about their son's health.

Reed was convicted in Russia in 2019 of endangering the lives of two police officers while drunk on a visit to Moscow. The United States has called his trial a "theater of the absurd."

Russia had proposed a prisoner swap for Yaroshenko in July 2019 in exchange for the release of any American. Yaroshenko is a pilot convicted of conspiracy to smuggle cocaine into the country. He was arrested by U.S. special forces in Liberia in 2010.

Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken said they were working to free another U.S. citizen held in Russia, Paul Whelan, also a former Marine.

Biden said he had shared the news with Reed's parents, Joey and Paula Reed, who have been pressing his administration to help their son. The Reeds thanked 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 in a statement.

Biden met with Reed's parents at the White House on March 30. In a statement the following week, the parents said a prisoner swap seemed to be the only way to bring Reed home and urged the White House to take all possible steps to do so.


The talks that led to Reed's release strictly focused on securing his freedom and were not the start of a wider diplomatic conversation, senior Biden administration officials said in a call with reporters.

"We're strictly limited to these topics, the detainee topics. They were not part of broader diplomatic discussions. They were not the beginnings of discussions on other issues," one of the officials said.

State Department spokesman Ned Price said later on CNN that diplomatic talks with Russia were "at a dead end" despite the releases.

The Reeds said their son would tell his own story as soon as he was ready.

"We'd respectfully ask for some privacy while we address the myriad of health issues brought on by the squalid conditions he was subjected to in his Russian gulag," they said.

Price said Reed's condition required "urgent treatment."

Biden did not comment on details of the swap, except to say "The negotiations that allowed us to bring Trevor home required difficult decisions that I do not take lightly."

Biden said his administration has put a priority on bringing home Americans wrongfully detained abroad and will continue to work on the release of Whelan and others.

Whelan has been held on spying charges that he denies and that he has likened to a political kidnapping.

U.S. basketball star Brittney Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, has been held nearly two months in Russia and faces up to 10 years in prison. Griner was detained at a Moscow airport on Feb. 17 when a search of her luggage allegedly revealed multiple cannabis oil vape cartridges.

Russian news agencies reported on April 4 that Reed had ended a hunger strike and was being treated in his prison's medical center. The prison service said Reed had gone on hunger strike on March 28 to protest disciplinary action against him.

Reed's parents said at the time he had been exposed to an inmate with active tuberculosis in December, but their son had not been tested for the illness despite a rapid deterioration in his health. The prison service said at the time he had repeatedly tested negative for tuberculosis and had not come into contact with anyone infected.