Trevor Reed ‘cautiously optimistic’ about proposal to free Griner and Whelan from Russia

Trevor Reed, a former Marine from Texas who served nearly three years in a Russian prison before being released in a prison swap this spring, said he was “cautiously optimistic” a similar deal could be concluded in the high-profile cases of two other Americans currently being held in Russia.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced this week that the United States has offered Russia a proposal to bring the WNBA star Britney Griner and the former home of Marine Paul Whelan.

The White House has not confirmed details of the offer, but three sources familiar with the offer confirmed to ABC News that the United States offered to trade convicted arms dealer Viktor Bout in order to obtain the release of Griner and Whelan from Russia.

In an interview with ABC News on Thursday, a day after the possible deal was announced, Reed said he was “extremely excited” when he heard the latest development.

“I’m cautiously optimistic that this trade will work out, and I hope it does,” he said. “I’m watching with the rest of America to see if that happens.”

PICTURED: Former U.S. Marine Trevor Reed, who was convicted in 2019 in Russia and released in exchange for Russian pilot Konstantin Yaroshenko, speaks with ABC News, July 28, 2022.

Former U.S. Marine Trevor Reed, who was convicted in 2019 in Russia and released in exchange for Russian pilot Konstantin Yaroshenko, speaks with ABC News, July 28, 2022.

ABC News

Reed, 30, was arrested in Moscow in the summer of 2019 while visiting his Russian girlfriend. Russian authorities accused him of assaulting officers as he was driven to a police station after a night of heavy drinking. He was found guilty by a Russian court in 2020 and sentenced to nine years in a prison camp.

As his family became increasingly concerned about his health in dire prison conditionsReed was published in April as part of a prisoner swap between the Biden administration and the Kremlin. Reed was released in exchange for Konstantin Yaroshenko, a Russian pilot who was sentenced in 2011 to 20 years in prison for conspiring to smuggle cocaine into the United States.

PICTURED: Former U.S. Marine Trevor Reed, who was arrested in 2019 and charged with assaulting police officers, stands inside a cage of defendants during a court hearing in Moscow, March 11, 2020 .

Former U.S. Marine Trevor Reed, who was arrested in 2019 and charged with assaulting police officers, stands inside a cage of defendants during a court hearing in Moscow, March 11, 2020.

Tatyana Makeyeva/Reuters, FILE

Reed told ABC News he didn’t want to hear about a possible release while he was in prison.

“I didn’t expect anything, I didn’t expect anything,” he said. “I asked my parents not to tell me positive news about my situation there because I didn’t want to have that hope. And I didn’t want to have the possibility of losing that hope. That was my strategy. . .”

For Griner and Whelan, however, he said he would like them to have hope and “hold on to that.”

The experience of finally coming home was “surreal”, he said.

“In these situations, you never know if it’s going to work until your feet are on American soil,” he said.

He said he was surprised by the announcement of the proposal, but sees it as a good sign for Griner and Whelan.

“They may be doing this to show the Russians that they are serious about this exchange, that they want this done, that they are ready to do this,” he said.

“It may represent a policy shift with the administration,” he continued. “Perhaps the administration will now be more open to prisoner exchanges for all wrongfully detained Americans.”

Reed sees an exchange with Bout as a “win-win” for the United States and Russia.

“If the Russians aren’t stupid, then I think they will accept this deal,” he said.

Since returning home, Reed was vocal on the fate of Griner and Whelan and called on the US government to negotiate a prisoner exchange like the one that freed him.

He has already supported that the United States should trade Bout, who is serving a 25-year prison sentence after being convicted in 2012 of federal narco-terrorism charges, for the release of the two Americans. The fight has also been repeatedly suggested by Russian state media as a possible trade.

Blinken said Wednesday he would hold a call with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov “in the coming days” to discuss securing the freedom of Griner and Whelan. He revealed that the US government had already “put a substantial proposal on the table weeks ago to facilitate their release” and remains hopeful for a breakthrough in their cases.

At a press conference in Moscow on Thursday, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Vladimirovna Zakharova confirmed that “the issue of mutual exchange of Russian and American citizens, staying in places of detention on the territory of the two countries, was discussed at some point”. by the Presidents of Russia and the United States”, but “no concrete results have yet been achieved”.

PICTURED: Brittney Griner arrives for a court hearing in Khimki, near Moscow, July 27, 2022.

Brittney Griner arrives for a court hearing in Khimki, near Moscow, on July 27, 2022.

Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP via Getty Images

Griner, 31, has been detained in Russia since February 17 and is currently on trial for drug trafficking. She was arrested at Sheremetyevo International Airport in Khimki after being accused of having vape cartridges containing hash oil, which is illegal in the country.

Griner, a Phoenix Mercury player who had returned to Russia to play in the WNBA offseason, testified this week that she didn’t want to violate Russian law by bringing vape cartridges into the country and that she was in a hurry and stressed after recovering from COVID-19 that month.

Griner reached out to President Joe Biden, urging him in a letter earlier this month to help him get out of Russia.

“As I sit here in a Russian prison, alone with my thoughts and without the protection of my wife, my family, my friends, my Olympic jersey or any achievement, I am terrified of be here forever,” Griner wrote to the president in the handwritten letter, parts of which have been made public by his representatives.

A verdict in the case is expected early next month. If convicted, she faces up to 10 years in prison. She has the right to appeal.

Whelan, 52, a Michigan-based corporate security official, was arrested in December 2018 for spying while traveling to Moscow for a friend’s wedding. In June 2020, he was found guilty and sentenced to 16 years of “hard labor” in a Russian prison. He and the US government have said these claims are false.

“We are concerned about his condition”, his twin brother, David Whelan, says Robin Roberts of ABC News during a Thursday interview on “Good Morning America.” “He is in a labor colony in Russia – the food is not good, the environment is not good. He has lost about 20% of his weight since his arrest. We know that he is not receiving a adequate food because that’s the normal diet in a Russian prison and we have to supplement that with quarterly packets of dried fruit, nuts, things like that to make sure he stays healthy.”

PICTURED: Paul Whelan, a former U.S. Marine who was arrested for alleged espionage, listens to the verdict in a Moscow City Court courtroom in Moscow, Russia, June 15, 2020.

Paul Whelan, a former U.S. Marine arrested for alleged espionage, listens to the verdict in a courtroom at the City Court in Moscow, Russia, June 15, 2020.

Sofia Sandurskaya/Moscow News Agency via AP, FILE

David Whelan expressed his optimism following the announcement of the US government’s proposal.

“The offer that the US government has made – and extraordinarily publicized – is great. Hopefully the Russian government will accept the concessions that have been made and allow Paul to return home,” he said.

Calls for the release of the two Americans have intensified in the months since Reed’s release, and the State Department has declared their cases a “top priority.”

“We still hope that this proposal will be accepted by the Russians and that we can move forward and bring Brittney and Paul home to their families where they belong,” White House spokesman John Kirby said. to ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos during an interview Thursday. on “Hello America”.

ABC News has learned that the proposed swap does not include American Marc Fogel, a 60-year-old teacher who was recently sentenced to 14 years in a Russian penal colony for drug trafficking.

His attorney, Thomas Firestone, told ABC News on Thursday that he hopes the US government will name Fogel as wrongfully detained and “make every effort to try to get him out.”

Firestone said Fogel’s mind was “not good”.

“We are very worried about him,” Firestone said.

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