Ex-Marine Reed returns to U.S. after Russia prisoner swap

·3 min read
FILE PHOTO: U.S. ex-Marine Reed attends a court hearing in Moscow

By Doina Chiacu and Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Former U.S. Marine Trevor Reed arrived back in the United States on Thursday after being freed by Russia in a prisoner swap, with a congressman who met with him saying the 30-year-old Texan's "spirit is strong."

Reed was released on Wednesday on an airport tarmac in Ankara, Turkey, in exchange for Russian pilot Konstantin Yaroshenko. The release took place amid fraught relations between the United States and Russia over the war in Ukraine.

U.S. Representative August Pfluger of Texas said Reed arrived at a San Antonio airport in the predawn hours.

Pfluger posted on Twitter pictures after the arrival, with one showing the congressman making a thumbs-up gesture standing next to Reed, who was wearing dark clothing. Both donned face masks. Other photos showed Reed standing with his parents and others at the airport.

"The joy on their face, to see their son - obviously very worried about his health," the Texas congressman said by video link at a congressional hearing with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken. "And it's going to take some time to heal, to get back to good health. But his spirit is strong. He's a fighter. He's a survivor."

"The reunification with his family was just tremendous," Pfluger added.

The swap was not part of broader diplomatic talks and did not represent an American change in approach on Ukraine, according to U.S. officials. Russian-American relations 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 was convicted in Russia in 2019 of endangering the lives of two police officers while drunk on a visit to Moscow. The United States called his trial a "theater of the absurd."

Yaroshenko was arrested by American special forces in Liberia in 2010 and convicted of conspiracy to smuggle cocaine into the United States. Russia had proposed a prisoner swap for Yaroshenko in July 2019 in exchange for any American.

Russian news agencies reported that Yaroshenko landed back in Moscow on Wednesday and was reunited with his wife and daughter.

Yaroshenko said on Thursday he had been tortured in custody in Liberia before his extradition to America. Yaroshenko also said he had been beaten at a military base in the United States, a claim rejected by the White House.

Russian news agencies reported on April 4 that Reed had ended a hunger strike and was being treated in his prison's medical center. Reed's parents said at the time that he had been exposed to an inmate with tuberculosis in December. The prison service said Reed tested negative for tuberculosis.

U.S. officials have said they are working to free other Americans held in Russia including Paul Whelan, also a former Marine. Whelan was sentenced to 16 years on espionage charges in June 2020.

Whelan's family has issued statements of concern about prospects for his release now that a prisoner who Russia wanted back since 2019 had been exchanged.

"Why was I left behind?" Whelan, 52, asked his parents, according to the family's statement.

(Writing by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Will Dunham and Chizu Nomiyama)

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