(NewsNation) — Russia and the United States carried out a dramatic prisoner exchange Wednesday, trading Marine Trevor Reed for a convicted Russian drug trafficker, officials from both countries said. The talks however were focused on the detainees and not diplomacy pertaining to the war between Russia and Ukraine, a senior administration official told Reuters.
The surprise deal would have been a notable maneuver even in times of peace, but it was all the more extraordinary because it was done as Russia’s war with Ukraine has driven relations with the U.S. to their lowest point in decades. Rep. Cheri Bustos said this would have not been an easy decision for the Biden administration.
“The Biden administration has been advocating for his release. He’ll be home in Texas if he’s not home already,” Bustos said. “This is very good news. And I’m proud of the Biden administration for working this out. When you’re looking at something like a prisoner swap, it’s not an easy decision, but I’m glad to know that Trevor Reed is on his way home.”
Reed, a former Marine from Texas, 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. in turn agreed to return Konstantin Yaroshenko, a Russian pilot serving a 20-year federal prison sentence for conspiracy to smuggle cocaine into the U.S.
Former Lt. General Richard Newton said the prisoner swap could be Russia attempting to strategically reach out to the United States amid the Ukraine invasion.
“I’m sure there’s been lots of backchannel going back and forth, not knowing for weeks, but probably for months regarding the Marine veteran, Trevor Reed. So I find it significant and really not attached to any particular timeline. It’s just a matter of course of action,” Newton said on “Morning in America.” I believe Russia is trying to again dangle they think they can effectively outreach the United States to leverage any type of, again, strategic communication on the world stage to show their benevolence.”
Reed was not the only American imprisoned in Russia under controversial circumstances. Brittney Griner, a WNBA All-Star and two-time Olympic gold medalist, was arrested in February at a Moscow airport after Russian authorities said a search of her luggage revealed vape cartridges. The offense can mean years in prison, coinciding at a moment when tensions with the U.S. were rising to their highest point in decades. She is a prominent gay, Black woman facing trial in a country where authorities have been hostile to the LGBTQ community and the country’s nationalist zeal has raised concerns about how she will be treated.
Newton said Griner is part of a list of Americans detained in Russia and said he hopes Griner’s story ends like Reed’s.
“Americans for years have always been warned to really pay very, very close to attention in terms of your actions in Russia and so forth. And as we’ve seen in Mr. Reid’s situation, and so forth,” Newton said. “This is not necessarily pertaining to the Ukraine conflict. This is years of challenges of Americans traveling abroad, especially in Russia, and especially in Moscow. So hopefully there will be good news.”
Interviews have been edited for length and clarity.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.