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Former U.S. Marine Trevor Reed freed from Russia in prisoner swap


A former U.S. Marine is now on his way back home after being imprisoned in Russia for 985 days. The Biden administration and Trevor Reed's parents made the announcement this morning. NPR diplomatic correspondent Michele Kelemen is following the story and joins us now.

Michele, just give us more details, as you know them, about Trevor Reed's release.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: So U.S. officials are saying this was the result of months and months of hard and careful work, as they put it. The U.S. released a Russian man from prison - we can talk about that in a minute - and the Russians, as you say, released Trevor Reed. He was first detained in 2019 for a scuffle with Russian police. He's always maintained his innocence. And the U.S. considered him unjustly detained - effectively a hostage. There were a lot of concerns about his health, and officials today say that's what led to this flurry of talks to get him out of prison. We're told that he was in good spirits and is on his way home with the U.S. Hostage Affairs envoy.

MARTIN: Reed's parents, I understand, were instrumental in at least talking about his imprisonment, getting it out, which is a particular kind of strategy. Can you talk about their role in this?

KELEMEN: Yeah. I mean, they've been playing a big role publicly for all this time. But they staged a protest outside the White House last month and got a meeting with President Biden. I think it really was about all their - the concerns about his health. They put a statement out today saying that Trevor Reed will share his story when he's ready, but for now, he needs to deal with what they call a myriad of health issues that were brought on - and this is a quote - "by the squalid conditions he was subjected to in his Russian gulag."

MARTIN: So you nodded to this - this was part of a prisoner exchange. Do we know anything more about the Russian man who was also freed?

KELEMEN: Yeah. The U.S. commuted the sentence of Konstantin Yaroshenko. He's a pilot who was serving a 20-year prison term for drug smuggling. Officials say that he paid a steep price and had served a majority of his sentence. But I should point out that it was actually just over half of his prison term that he served. Officials say that it was a tough call to release him. The Russians have been lobbying for his release for a while in proposing prisoner swaps. The other man they want back is Viktor Bout, but the U.S. would have a hard time releasing someone like Bout. He's an arms dealer who's known as the Merchant of Death, and his story is much more widely known than Yaroshenko's was.

MARTIN: So, I mean, each case is particular, right? There are different circumstances that lead to someone's detention in a nation-state. I mean, as you noted, Trevor Reed was detained initially because of this kind of - he was accused of attacking a Moscow police officer. But does his release signal good news in any way for other Americans who are being detained there - Paul Whelan, who is accused of spying, and most recently, the WNBA star Brittney Griner?

KELEMEN: Right, right. I mean, it's a good sign that the U.S. is - can still talk to Russia about these cases because, you know, the embassy has been very short-staffed, and there are all kinds of problems. But so far, we're told that the talks have not gone beyond these sort of discreet issues about hostages. So hopefully, they can come up with some other deals and prisoner exchanges. But so far, it hasn't gone beyond this.

MARTIN: NPR diplomatic correspondent Michele Kelemen. Thank you so much.

KELEMEN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.

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