A Moscow court has denied an appeal by one of two former Marines whom US officials believe Russia is holding hostage and whose cases have become the focus of a potential prisoner swap between the two countries.
Trevor Reed and another ex-Marine, Paul Whelan, have been held in Russia for nearly two years on separate charges that US officials say were made up to use them as bargaining chips.
President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed the Americans’ cases during their summit in Switzerland earlier this month, and the Kremlin indicated that it might be willing to negotiate a deal for their release. Reed, 29, had appealed a nine-year prison sentence he received last July in a trial condemned by the United States. Moscow’s City Court rejected that appeal on Monday, leaving the sentence unchanged. Reed, who is currently being held in a pre-trial detention center in Moscow, may now be transferred to a prison camp outside of the capital as a result of the ruling.
Reed’s representatives expected the ruling, and his lawyers said they would appeal it to a higher court in Russia and, if necessary, to the country’s supreme court and the European Court of Human Rights. Reed could be heard saying “no surprises here” as he was led out of a glass cage in handcuffs in a video released by the court.
Reed, whose family lives in Texas, was apprehended by Russian police after a drunken party in Moscow in August 2019, while visiting his girlfriend and studying Russian. Reed was taken to a police station to sober up, but after being questioned by agents from Russia’s FSB intelligence service, police charged him with assaulting an officer, according to his family.
Russia has repeatedly proposed exchanging Reed and Whelan for Russian citizens imprisoned in the United States. Whelan was apprehended by FSB agents in late December 2018 and sentenced to 16 years in prison on fabricated spying charges, according to his family and US officials.
The Biden administration has stated that freeing the two men is a top priority, and US Ambassador to Moscow John Sullivan attended the hearing on Monday.
He remarked on the unusual length of his sentence, which he claimed was longer than that of other prisoners convicted of murder. Some of his fellow inmates dubbed him “Yury Gagarin” after the first man in space, he explained, “because I was the first person to receive such a sentence for such a minor offense.”
He accused authorities of violating his human rights in jail by denying him medical care, preventing him from communicating with the embassy and his family, and confining him in a psychiatric hospital for an extended period of time.
Although Reed could now be transferred to a prison camp, his attorneys said on Monday that they did not expect that to happen until his new appeals were resolved or he was released in a possible swap.
Following Putin and Biden’s meeting, there are hopes that a deal to bring the men home will be possible. Following the summit, Putin told reporters that “a compromise might be found” regarding the Americans’ detention, and the Kremlin has since stated that the two sides should sit down and begin working on reaching an agreement.
Sullivan declined to comment on any potential negotiations on Monday, other than to say that he expected them to take place.
“I anticipate future discussions between our governments regarding the release of both of those Americans,” Sullivan said outside the court. “It is extremely important to President Biden.” The Russian proposal to include Viktor Bout, one of the world’s most notorious arms dealers whose release is viewed as a non-starter by US officials, has previously been a major impediment to any deal.
However, Russia has hinted that it would like to see other Russians currently serving sentences in the United States released, including Konstantin Yaroshenko, a pilot sentenced to 20 years in prison on drug smuggling charges after being arrested in a DEA sting in Liberia in 2010.
Reed’s parents said after the Geneva summit that Putin’s words gave them hope that a deal was possible. Biden told reporters at the summit that his administration would follow through on the discussion with Russia about the two men and that he would “not walk away” from them.