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Amid war in Ukraine, US Marine detained by Russia faces urgent health needs


(NEW YORK) — Trevor Reed’s fate hangs in the balance amid sky-high tensions between the U.S. and Russia, where the 30-year old former U.S. Marine has been detained on trumped up charges for over two and a half years.

But now, amid a stalled push to secure his release, Reed’s health is dangerously deteriorating, according to his family, with fears that he may have contracted tuberculosis in the remote penal colony where he’s been held without direct communication with his family for nearly eight months now.

“We are desperately worried about Trevor’s health — our son is out of time, and the [Biden] Administration needs to act now,” Joey and Paula Reed said in a statement Thursday.

Reed had a close-contact exposure to tuberculosis in December, and he told an attorney who visited Wednesday that he coughs up blood several times a day, experiences pain in his lungs, and believes he has a fever, the Reed family said.

Russian authorities have declined to give him a tuberculosis test or access to medicine, phone calls to his family, or even written communications with his attorneys in recent weeks, they added.

Reed and another former Marine, Paul Whelan, have spent years in Russian custody now on charges that their families and American officials say were fabricated by Russia in order to seize them as bargaining chips.

“For several months now, we have been asking for a meeting with our President. Our son’s job in the Marines was to take a bullet for then-VP Biden, and Trevor is now worried he’s been left behind by the government he’s spent his whole adult life serving,” Joey and Paula Reed said.

Pleading with President Joe Biden and first lady Dr. Jill Biden, they added, “From one set of military parents to another — we need your help. Only you can save his life!”

Biden and Russian leader Vladimir Putin discussed the two Americans’ detention and the possibility of a prisoner swap to free them at their summit in Switzerland last June, but a deal never materialized.

In July, one month after that that summit, Reed was moved to a prison camp in Mordovia, a region about 350 miles from Moscow. Whelan has spent over a year and a half in a camp in the same region.

Reed fell into the hands of Russian police in the summer of 2019 following a drunken party in Moscow where he was visiting his girlfriend.

Police initially said they were taking him to sober up at a station, but after agents from Russia’s FSB intelligence agency arrived to question him, Reed was charged with assaulting a police officer, according to his family. He was put on trial on charges that U.S. officials have said were absurd. A court in July 2020 sentenced Reed to nine years in prison.

Reed, whose family lives in Texas, spent nearly two years in detention in pre-trial jails in Moscow. But last June, a court rejected his appeal, clearing the way for him to be moved to a prison camp. That’s around the last time they heard directly from their son, the family said.

“We told him to stay strong — we’re going to fight for him,” Paula Reed said last week during a press conference, her voice filling with emotion.

The Biden administration has said freeing Reed and Whelan is a priority, and U.S. ambassador to Russia John Sullivan has visited both Reed and Whelan in Mordovia twice, driving eight hours from Moscow in an armored vehicle to meet both men and report back to their families.

As U.S. and Western sanctions on Russia have ramped up, the Reed’s have grown concerned that any hope to negotiating his release is fading. Calls to sever diplomatic relations in particular could make it hard for the family to even learn about Trevor’s condition, they said.

“We need to leave those embassies in those countries because we need to have direct chains of communications,” Joey Reed said during a press conference last week.

Whelan, 51, was security executive for the auto parts company BorgWarner when he was arrested in late December 2018 in his hotel room by FSB agents while visiting Moscow for a friend’s wedding. He was accused of espionage and sentenced to 16 years in prison in a closed trial on charges his family and U.S. officials have said were fabricated.

From early in their detention, Russia has suggested trading Reed and Whelan for Russians serving prison sentences in the United States.

Since 2019, Russian officials have named several Russians they would like to see released, including Viktor Bout, one of the world’s most notorious arms dealers, and Konstantin Yaroshenko, a pilot jailed on drug smuggling charges. Russia state media has more recently highlighted another Russian citizen jailed in the U.S., Roman Seleznev, who is serving a 27-year sentence on criminal hacking charges.

Bout’s release has been seen as a non-starter for American officials because of the severity of his crimes. But Yaroshenko and Seleznev are seen as more likely to be included in any trade.

Yaroshenko was arrested in a 2010 Drug Enforcement Administration sting in Liberia during which he agreed to ship cocaine to Africa and the U.S. He is serving a 20-year sentence.

Seleznev was captured by U.S. law enforcement agents in Maldives in 2014 and convicted of running a massive hacking scheme to steal credit card data from small businesses in the U.S.

All three men are suspected to have links to Russian intelligence. During Seleznev’s trial, prosecutors provided documents alleging that Seleznev was tipped off to an earlier FBI investigation against him by Russia’s Federal Security Service or FSB, after FBI agents met with the Russian agency.

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