Both the US and Russian sides have confirmed a successful high level prisoner swap, which indicates that the two sides have been continuing to hold intense dialogue behind the scenes, despite relations hitting a historic low. The Biden White House on Wednesday announced it has secured the release of a former Marine who had been held in Russian prison since 2019.
"Today, we welcome home Trevor Reed and celebrate his return to the family that missed him dearly. Trevor, a former U.S. Marine, is free from Russian detention," President Joe Biden said in a statement of the US citizen now transferred back to American soil. "I heard in the voices of Trevor’s parents how much they’ve worried about his health and missed his presence. And I was delighted to be able to share with them the good news about Trevor’s freedom."
At the same time Russia's Foreign Ministry said Russian citizen Konstantin Yaroshenko has been freed from US custody. The former Russian pilot had been serving a 20-year sentence in the US on drug charges.
Russian diplomats acknowledged that the swap had been the result of a "lengthy negotiation process." Yaroshenko was handed over to Russian officials in Turkey and then flew to Sochi, Russia.
The Moscow Times reviews that "Yaroshenko, 53, was detained in Liberia in 2010 and brought to the United States, where he was convicted the following year of smuggling cocaine in his planes to destinations in South America, Africa and Europe and sentenced to 20 years."
As for Reed, he was reportedly flown from an airport outside of Moscow and back to the United States. Reed had previously been sentenced to nine years in prison for assaulting a Russian police officer in a drunken incident. Reed's appeals process had been exhausted in the Russian system, and he's maintained his innocent for the alleged assault which he says he doesn't remember.
Footage of Trevor Reed taken to #Moscow's Vnukovo airport, before flying home to the US. He had been jailed since 2019. when he was convicted with attacking a policeman. US and his family had insisted that his jailing was unjustly pic.twitter.com/rDcU8hufFI— Guy Elster (@guyelster) April 27, 2022
Biden in his statement hinted that negotiations to free other Americans are still ongoing:
"The negotiations that allowed us to bring Trevor home required difficult decisions that I do not take lightly. His safe return is a testament to the priority my Administration places on bringing home Americans held hostage and wrongfully detained abroad. We won’t stop until Paul Whelan and others join Trevor in the loving arms of family and friends," the president said.
The news that Russia and the US have been engaged in high level negotiations over gaining freedom for detained citizens is a rare positive sign that dialogue has continued in some form - given the almost completely lack of any communications or diplomacy in the context of the Ukraine war.
Russian commercial pilot Konstantin Yaroshenko was serving a 20-year federal prison sentence in Connecticut for conspiracy to smuggle cocaine into the US..
Even the Russian ambassador in D.C. has lately described a communications "blockade" when he tries to engage any Biden administration officials. Also, in the last weeks hundreds of Russian diplomats have been expelled from Europe, with Moscow responding by kicking out dozens of European officials from their embassies and consulates in Russia.