POKROVSK, Ukraine (NewsNation) — Russia and the United States carried out a dramatic prisoner exchange on Wednesday, trading Marine veteran, Trevor Reed, for a convicted Russian drug trafficker, officials for both countries said.
The Russian foreign ministry said the exchange of Reed and Konstantin Yaroshenko was “a result of a long negotiation process.”
Russia released Reed, a former Marine from Texas who was arrested in the summer of 2019 after Russian authorities said he assaulted an officer while being driven by police to a police station following a night of heavy drinking. Reed was later sentenced to nine years in prison, though his family has maintained his innocence and the U.S. government has described him as unjustly detained.
The U.S. agreed to return Yaroshenko, a Russian pilot serving a 20-year federal prison sentence in Connecticut for conspiracy to smuggle cocaine into the U.S. after he was arrested in Liberia in 2010 and extradited to the U.S.
The prisoner swap marks the highest-profile release during the Biden administration of an American deemed wrongly detained abroad and comes even as families of detainees who have met over the last year with administration officials had described them as cool to the idea of an exchange.
President Joe Biden welcomed the release of Reed from detention in Russia, where he has been held since 2019.
“Trevor, a former U.S. Marine, is free from Russian detention,” Biden said in a statement, adding he shared the news with Reed’s parents, Joey and Paula Reed.
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.
Meanwhile, Russia opened a new front in its war in Ukraine Wednesday, cutting two European Union nations that staunchly back Kyiv off from its gas, a dramatic escalation in the conflict that is increasingly becoming a wider battle with the West.
One day after the United States and other Western allies vowed to speed more and better military supplies to Ukraine, the Kremlin upped the ante, using its most essential export as leverage. European gas prices shot up on the news, which European leaders denounced as “blackmail.”
In a memo, state-controlled Russian giant Gazprom said it was cutting Poland and Bulgaria off from its natural gas because they refused to pay in Russian rubles, as President Vladimir Putin had demanded. The company said it had not received any such payment since the beginning of the month.
The gas cuts do not immediately put the countries into dire trouble since they have worked on getting alternative sources for several years now and the continent is heading into summer, making gas not as essential for households.
Still, it sent shivers of worry through the 27-nation European Union, which immediately convened a special coordination group to limit the impact of the move.
Gazprom’s decision to cut gas to two European countries was another dark turn in the war, which has revived the geopolitical rifts of the Cold War, and it had an immediate impact. European gas prices spiked 25%, with benchmark Dutch futures jumping from around 100 euros per megawatt-hour to around 125 euros.
Fatih Birol, the executive director of the Paris-based International Energy Agency, called the move a “weaponization of energy supplies” in a tweet.
“Gazprom’s move to completely shut off gas supplies to Poland is yet another sign of Russia’s politicization of existing agreements & will only accelerate European efforts to move away from Russian energy supplies,” he wrote.
EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen called the move “yet another attempt by Russia to use gas as an instrument of blackmail.”
Bulgarian Prime Minister Kiril Petkov also called the suspension of gas deliveries blackmail and said it was “a gross violation of their contract.”
“We will not succumb to such a racket,” he added.
The stoppage marked “an historical turning point in the bilateral energy relationship” between Russia and Europe, said Simone Tagliapietra, senior fellow at the Bruegel think tank in Brussels.
Poland, a historical rival of Russia, has been a major gateway for the delivery of weapons to Ukraine and confirmed this week that it is sending the country tanks. It said it was well prepared for Wednesday’s gas cutoff.
Poland also has ample natural gas in storage, and it will soon benefit from two pipelines coming online, analyst Emily McClain of Rystad Energy said.
Bulgaria gets over 90% of its gas from Russia, and officials said they were working to find other sources, such as from Azerbaijan.
Both countries had refused Russia’s demands that they pay in rubles, as have almost all of Russia’s gas customers in Europe.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.