War in Ukraine complicates US detainees’ path home | New Policies

By ERIC TUCKER, Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — The already difficult path to bringing home Americans imprisoned in Russia and Ukraine is likely even more complicated now with war engulfing the region and increasingly hostile relations between the United States and the Kremlin.

Navy veteran Trevor Reed and corporate security chief Paul Whelan are each serving long prison sentences in Russia, but their families have long held out hope for some sort of deal – including a possible swap of prisoners – who could bring their loved ones home.

Now, however, that seems like a much tougher request.

“I can’t help but think this isn’t going to help Trevor get released sooner, obviously,” Reed’s mother, Paula Reed, said in an interview with The Associated Press.

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The war with Ukraine not only captured global attention, it also led to punitive economic sanctions by the United States and an escalation of Russian aggression in the face of international condemnation of its invasion. While the conflict has not closed the avenues for bringing Reed and Whelan home, the prospect of concessions on either side is overshadowed by the likelihood of continued antagonism from Russia.

“If this gets long and drawn out, and they take over Ukraine, then Western countries in the United States are going to be at odds with Russia for a long time,” Reed’s father, Joey Reed, said. “It could lead to additional charges against our son, if he lives, and keeping him there indefinitely, which is not uncommon in Russia.”

He said he was particularly concerned that a loss of communication between the two superpowers could prevent the US government from bringing him home.

“We were told that even during the Cold War they kept the channels open. Even Kennedy got to talk to Khrushchev during the Cuban Missile Crisis,” Reed said. “Anyone who argues for embassies to be closed and cut, it’s a gigantic mistake when two major nuclear powers don’t talk to each other and disagree. with each other. ”

State Department deputy chief spokeswoman Jalina Porter, when asked by the AP Thursday about the impact of the war on the three men’s cases, said only that the administration’s top priority was “safety.” and the safety of all Americans,” including Reed and Whelan.

“It’s something the secretary works on day in and day out,” she said.

Reed, who is from Texas, was sentenced to nine years in prison in 2020 for assaulting officers who were driving him to a police station after picking him up after a night of heavy drinking at a party. He has had health issues behind bars, recently coughing up blood this week, his father said.

He is considered by the US government to be a wrongful inmate, as is Whelan, a Michigan corporate security official sentenced in 2020 to 16 years in prison on espionage-related charges which his family say are entirely false.

Whelan’s sister Elizabeth said she was scrolling through the war news on Twitter like everyone else, concerned about the impact of the war on her brother and the possibility of another ‘iron curtain’ falling. In the region.

She said the United States could use the conflict as another opportunity to push for the release of Reed and Whelan by making it a condition of any lifting of sanctions against Russia, although it is not clear that this would happen.

“I can’t imagine that all of those oligarchs whose families are now affected, whose assets and property are now affected, wouldn’t view the release of Paul and Trevor as a very small price to pay to get relief themselves. . “said Whelan.

Ukraine, meanwhile, is holding North Dakota farmer Kurt Groszhans, accused of conspiring to assassinate a current member of the country’s political cabinet. His family and supporters say the charges are trumped up and were designed to silence Groszhan’s own allegations of government corruption in Ukraine.

Kristi Magnusson, Groszhan’s sister, said in a statement provided to the AP that she was concerned that the State Department would “advocate his release because it would infer that Ukraine was engaging in corrupt activities at a when the state is focused on being as favorable to Ukraine as possible against the Russians.

“We also support the Ukrainian people against Russia, but our brother is a duck sitting in this prison and we need him to be released so he can at least try to survive on his own,” he said. she adds.

Unlike Reed and Whelan, the United States did not designate Groszhans as a wrongful detainee.

Follow Eric Tucker on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/etuckerAP

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