Return to Transcripts main page
Russia and U.S. Announces Release of American Marine Veteran Trevor Reed from Russia Prison in Exchange for Russian Citizen Imprisoned in America; Prisoner Exchange between U.S. and Russia Indicates Continued Open Channels of Communication Despite Russian Invasion of Ukraine. Aired 8-8:30a ET.
Aired April 27, 2022 - 08:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR AND CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: He was sentenced to 20 years in prison by an American court back in 2010, involved in a DEA investigation for drug smuggling. So of course, Trevor Reed first, family first.
Trevor Reed, his time in a Russian prison, in addition to not knowing when he would get his freedom, has been difficult. He's had hunger strikes to protest not just his imprisonment but his treatment there. He's had symptoms of tuberculosis. More recently he said that he broke a rib. He was not getting proper treatment in prison as well. So an ordeal for Trevor Reed, the former Marine, an ordeal for his family.
I think also bigger picture, we should note, here are the U.S. and Russia, who are currently on opposite sides of a war raging here in Ukraine, speaking. A prisoner swap like this would not happen in a day. It would be the result of weeks, perhaps months of negotiations. And the fact that it came to be today in the midst of this war shows that Russia and the U.S. at least have diplomatic channels open. And we should note in the past that not all the time, maybe not even oftentimes, but sometimes exchanges like this have, because of those openings, have allowed for discussion of other issues. It doesn't mean it happens here, and the U.S. still very much at loggerheads with Russia. But the fact that this took place in the midst of the war, and a war in which there has been increasingly volatile rhetoric, particularly from Russia, even about threats of nuclear conflict and so on, is notable.
But as I said at the beginning, first and foremost, this is about the freedom of a young American, a Marine veteran, imprisoned under, as you were describing, John, at best questionable circumstances. He was imprisoned, according to the Russians, for endangering the safety of Russian police officers after an altercation going back in 2019. But beyond the fact that we don't trust the operation or the fairness of Russian courts, also there's a lot of experience about mistreatment of prisoners in prison, including foreigners, and some evidence of that here, him being denied proper medical treatment.
I should note that I'll be speaking to Ned Price, the State Department spokesperson, at the top of the next hour in a chance to discuss with him details about how this came to be.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Looking forward to hearing that. Jim Sciutto in Lviv, stand by. And again, the Reed family thanking dozens of people inside the diplomatic community, the State Department, the White House, the president, also bipartisan membership of Congress. Brianna?
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, Paula Reid texting, "Obviously we are elated," and I should mention that had three exclamation points after it. You can imagine how many exclamation points that family is feeling right now.
I want to go to Arlette Saenz at the White House. Arlette, can you tell us anything about this? Because what this obviously comes down to is a prisoner swap, and we're awaiting some details on what that is.
ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right. So far we have not received details from the White House about how exactly this prisoner exchange was conducted. But we did just minutes ago receive a statement from President Biden, confirming Trevor Reed's return to the United States. He said today we will welcome home -- "we welcome home Trevor Reed and celebrate his return to the family that missed him dearly. Trevor, a former U.S. marine, is free from Russian detention. I heard in the voices of Trevor's parents how much they worried about his health and miss his presence. And I was delighted to be able to share with them the good news about Trevor's freedom."
The president went on to thank the various U.S. government and diplomatic officials who helped with the negotiations, and he added, "The negotiations that allowed us to bring Trevor home required difficult decisions that I do not take lightly. His safe return is a testament to the priority my administration places on bringing home Americans held hostage and wrongfully detained abroad. We won't stop until Paul Whelan and others join Trevor in the loving arms of family and friends."
So obviously, there are still many details that need to be filled out. But this comes as President Biden just last month had met with the parents of Trevor Reed here at the White House after they had been protesting outside. He also encountered them when he traveled to Texas in early March, and the family had been waiting outside an event. The president was unable to stop to speak to them, but he did extend a phone call to them at that time and then met with them here at the White House.
Now, just a few weeks ago, in early April, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki was asked about the possibility of any prisoners returning from Russia to the United States. She said that those negotiations would not be broadcast in the press that they were always working with the priority of bringing Trevor Reed and others home back here to the United States. So we will see what further developments the White House is able to provide over the course of the day, but clearly this is very big news, not just for President Biden, but for the family of Trevor Reed as he is on his way back to the United States.
KEILAR: They're elated, and waiting, of course, with some anticipation to see their son. Arlette, thank you for that, live for us from the White House.
I do want to bring in retired Air Force Colonel Cedric Leighton to talk a little bit about this. Arlette there reading that statement out, Cedric, and it hinted at something where he said there are difficult decisions I don't take lightly. Often when you have a prisoner swap, I would say always when you have a prisoner swap, it's not popular who you are letting go in exchange for someone. But at the same time, Trevor Reed's case has, I think, really captivated so many people across America who wanted to see him home and were worried that he might actually die in captivity.
COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON (RET), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Yes, absolutely, Brianna. Good morning. This is really good news and on so many levels. First of all, for the Reed family, this is enormous, and they can be really happy with what the Biden administration has been able to do for them.
On a broader point, I also think that this may open the path to other negotiations, not just for prisoner exchanges, which of course is the top priority in this particular area, but also potentially for broader negotiations on a broader front regarding Ukraine. So we will, of course, see. We don't want to say too much in terms of this, Brianna, but I do believe that there is at least a chance that this could open the path to more dialogue, which eventually could potentially have an impact on what is going on in Ukraine as well.
BERMAN: Cedric, can you explain how this happens, that there is this war in Ukraine, where the United States isn't fighting Russia, but it is on the other side of Russia, and diplomatic relationship is all but broken down. But yet clearly there was still a channel open to have these talks. And again, just to bring everyone up to see the breaking news is that an American, a Marine veteran, Trevor Reed, who has been in a Russian prison since 2020, he is on his way home, an agreement between the United States and Russia in a prisoner swap. How is an agreement like that made during a war?
LEIGHTON: Yes, it's a very difficult process, John. And one of the things that happens is even when there is a lot of conflict between two countries, especially countries as prominent in the world as the United States and Russia, there is always a diplomatic channel that we try to keep open with them. And that's not just within the State Department. It is also within the Department of Defense. Sometimes we're successful in doing it. Sometimes we are not. Sometimes it takes a really long time to get things like this done.
But it shows that there is a way in which the diplomatic community and the military community work with their counterparts. They establish personal relationships with the people on the opposite side. They can work with them. They work through all the difficulties that are there. And they have that goal in mind. They have the goal of getting, in this case, Trevor Reed home. And from the United States' perspective, of course, that is not only the right thing to do, but it is a must do for the way in which he handle our people and deal with citizens that are imprisoned abroad like Trevor was.
BERMAN: Cedric, thank you very much. KEILAR: Let's go back to Jim Sciutto who is in western Ukraine. I
understand you're hearing something from some of your sources. Jim, what can you tell us?
SCIUTTO: From the NSC as well, quite similar position to what Arlette was saying from the White House. A key point here in this statement is they note, and I'll quote directly, "his safe return is a testament to the priority that President Biden places on bringing home Americans held hostage and wrongfully detained abroad." That is the U.S. view of this, that Trevor Reed was not put in prison because of a just judicial process in Russia, but that these were trumped up charges. He ended up in prison, he was not treated well there.
And, by the way, this is a tactic that Russia and countries such as Iran have used before, pick up Americans on trumped up charges or false charges to create capital, right, to exchange potentially down the line for Russian citizens, which is what happened here. Now, there is a long history of that, and it is, frankly, one way to get Americans to safety, out of a country such as Russia.
And by the way, Russia is now confirming this transfer as well. A statement from Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said this on Telegram, "As a result of a lengthy negotiation process, U.S. citizen Trevor Reed, previously convicted in the Russian Federation," she says, "was exchanged for Russian citizen Konstantin Yaroshenko, who was sentenced to 20 years in prison by an American court in 2010." I mentioned before, his history here goes back more than a decade. He was brought in in a DEA investigation for being involved in trafficking and drugs. So different circumstances from Trevor Reed.
But I would like to repeat a point I mentioned when we were last speaking, John and Brianna, and that is -- and Cedric highlighted this too, that this does mean the two sides are talking.
Lengthy process, and probably before this invasion started, because we're only, what, two months in, and it's pretty likely this has been going on for months now. So it's likely the channels were open before Russia came in here. But they continued after Russia invaded a country unprovoked, and after the U.S. and NATO very firmly put them on the side of Ukraine and have been arming Ukraine increasingly. So to see that the two sides at least have channels open is something. And it presents the possibility of discussions on other topics, notably the bloody war taking place here. Whether that leads anywhere, we don't know. Sometimes in the past they have, in situations like this. But it is an open channel, and that has significance.
BERMAN: Jim Sciutto, thank you so much for being with us and your reporting. I'm sure we'll see you again very soon.
We're going to take a quick break. Before we do, though, Brianna, you have heard again directly from Paula Reed. Would you read us what we heard from the mother of Trevor Reed now on his way back to the United States? KEILAR: She said, "Obviously we are elated," three exclamation
points. She said "It will still be some time before we see him." If it isn't now, it isn't soon enough, Berman. I think that's fair to say.
BERMAN: Absolutely. And we are working to get the parents on the phone. Stand by. This is CNN's special live coverage.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is CNN breaking news.
BERMAN: All right, the breaking news this morning, frankly, major and wonderful. Russia has announced it is releasing American Trevor Reed, the U.S. marine veteran was sentenced to nine years in prison in July for endangering the life and health of a Russian endangering the life and health of a Russian police officer, something he and his family have just denied ever since. He's reportedly being exchanged for a Russian citizen who was sentenced to 20 years in prison by an American court in 2010. Now, we'll have much more on that in a second.
The other breaking news, reports of explosions in three separate areas inside Russia, including one, an ammunition depot right here in Belgorod. The war in Ukraine clearly at this point expanding beyond Ukraine's border.
Now, there is reason to be wary of these reports, these reports came from Russian media, and often the Russians try to claim Ukrainian attacks to somehow portray themselves as victims. But an adviser to Ukrainian President Zelenskyy just said, quote, sooner or later the debts will have to be paid. That's why disarming the Belgorod-Voronezh depots, and that's where the strikes were, is an absolutely natural process. Karma is a cruel thing. Again, a Zelenskyy adviser says karma is a cruel thing.
On the other hand, there is other news out of the region today.
Russia has blocked gas from being exported to Poland and Bulgaria. It has cut off natural gas supply to these two countries after they refused to pay for it in rubles. This is significant, both countries are relying on Russian energy. They're also NATO members and they've also both aided in the Ukrainian defense.
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: And in the meantime, Ukraine is now admitting it is taking losses in east as Russian forces intensify their attacks on this new strategic bombardment, and then in the south.
A second missile strike overnight on a strategic bridge near Odesa. This is video that you're seeing here from the first strike. New images coming in just moments ago showing the damage. This rail and road bridge is the only link between the southwest corner of Ukraine and the rest of the country.
Let's go live now to Kyiv and bring in CNN's chief international correspondent Clarissa Ward.
Clarissa, you're seeing even more devastating destruction there in Ukraine. Can you tell us what you're seeing?
CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So it is very interesting, you and John mentioned the three explosions that have been reported in Russia, one of them taking place in the city of Belgorod. That is just across the border from the city of Kharkiv, where we spent several days. It is a vital supply line for Russian forces and weaponry as they try to push down further south. And it is also a big part of why that city of Kharkiv has been getting hammered now for more than two months. Take a look.
WARD (voice-over): There's no rest at night for the people of Kharkiv. Flares light up the sky as artillery thunders through the air.
For nearly nine weeks, Ukraine's second largest city has been shelled relentlessly. Only by day do you see the full scale of the destruction.
The neighborhood was hit repeatedly last month, as Russian forces try to push into the city. No site was spared, not even the local nursery school.
So it looks like this was some kind of a dormitory. You can see children's beds here all around. And then in the next room over there was their classroom.
Their shoes still litter the locker room. Mercifully, the school had been evacuated, so no children were killed in the strikes.
The mayor of Kharkiv says that 67 schools and 54 kindergartens have been hit here since the war began. What's so striking when you look around is that it's so clearly not a military target. This is a residential neighborhood.
Just a few blocks away, the bare skeleton of an apartment building. Authorities say more than 2,000 houses have been hit here. Sounds of war are never far away.
You can see this is what's left of the bedroom here. It's just astonishing.
Two doors down, we see a figure peeking out -- 73-year-old Larissa Krenina (ph) is still living there alone.
So she's saying she does have a sister who she could stay with, but she also lives in an area that's being heavily hit, and she's living in a shelter at the moment.
It's from all sides, she says. From there and there, they can shell.
With her fresh lipstick, Larissa is a picture of pride and resilience -- much like this city, still standing tall in the face of a ruthless enemy.
WARD (on camera): Now, the governor of Kharkiv has said that at least three people were killed in the shelling yesterday. Seven injured and this is what we're seeing day in and day out. But I do want to stress that Ukrainian forces are fighting back, a lot of that bombardment you heard at the beginning of our piece is not just incoming, but also outgoing.
They are determined to try to block off Russia's supply route and while Ukrainian authorities have in the officially claimed responsibility for those explosion inside Russia, including that one, of course, in Belgorod, you did hear this sort of cryptic message or not really that cryptic message from a presidential adviser to Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Sooner or later, your debts will have to be paid back -- John, Brianna.
BERMAN: And, Clarissa, just to remind people, you are in Kharkiv, that's where that report was filed, Belgorod, one of the sites that there was an explosion, one of the three sites inside the Russian border where there was an explosion, perhaps a sign of Ukrainians fighting back. As you said, why saw evidence of Ukrainian effort yourself there.
I'm being sensitive to the fact here, no matter who is winning or losing, there are innocent Ukrainians caught in the middle of it. You've met so many of them. But you got a sense that the Ukrainian resistance is growing stronger, the capabilities are getting higher.
WARD: I do, actually, John. And it has been quite surprising to see. But there is a real feeling, particularly in the city of Kharkiv, even though it has been battered, that people are also emboldened. They started to see Ukrainian forces made serious gains on the battlefield. They saw that Russian forces were successfully pushed back in the north around Kyiv.
And I think a lot of people are now sort of daring to dream that it might actually be possible to win this war. And they're very much fixated on that.
Now, at the same time, let's be clear eyed about this, it is going to be an enormous challenge they are still coming under incredibly heavy bombardment. They are taking a lot of losses. The Russians have a serious amount of weaponry and manpower at their disposal.
So, this is not going to be an easy fight. More likely than not it is going to be a long and painful grind, and many civilians as you mentioned, John, will pay the ultimate price for that.
KEILAR: Clarissa, amazing reporting as always. Thank you so much.
We do have more on our breaking news, American Trevor Reed to be released from prison in Russia in a prisoner swap. What does this mean for talks between the West and Russia during this war because obviously this means they are talking and making some progress at least in one area here. We're hearing from Trevor's mother, in real time. She is, as you can imagine, elated.
Stay with us for more.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BERMAN: All right. The breaking news is this, American Trevor Reed to be released from prison in Russia, in a prisoner swap.
Joining me now is Bianna Golodryga, CNN senior global affairs analyst.
Trevor Reed, a marine veteran imprisoned since 2020 on charges his family has always denied. We're trying to get his family on the phone right now. Obviously, a wonderful development for them.
But I want to focus on the peculiar nature of where we are. There is a war in Ukraine where the U.S. and Russia are on different sides and yet negotiations were obviously taking place.
BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN SENIOR GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANAYST: Yeah, and we're hearing reports that the U.S. ambassador to Russia actually flew back to Moscow yesterday in anticipation of his release and this prisoner swap.
Look, first and foremost, this is wonderful news for Trevor's parents and kudos to them, they have been relentless in not only pushing the White House to do more, to release Trevor, but also being here and talking to people like Brianna and other news personalities making his case known and pleading for his release. We know his health had been deteriorating recently. This was a top priority for them.
And clearly for President Biden, knowing that he could separate himself obviously from this horrendous war to try to free an American with other Americans there, Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan, hopefully, maybe we can see some traction and getting their release. It is somewhat reassuring to hear some sort of diplomatic channels are still open.
BERMAN: I'm very glad you mentioned Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan and other Americans who may be in the same situation. But this is what it means, when people say they need to keep the channels open, this is what that means and why.
GOLODRYGA: And we haven't forgotten his name over the past three years and this is why his parents have been pleading weekly, coming on networks like ours talking about their son so we don't forget about this and don't forget about other Americans who in the family's opinion and in the U.S. government believe that they are wrongly detained and clearly not being treated well in Russian prisons.
BERMAN: All right. Bianna Golodryga, thank you very much. We'll see you at the top of the hour. Thanks so much.
In just a moment, we are hoping to speak to Trevor Reed's parents. The breaking news, American Trevor Reed, who has been in a Russian prison for two years, under terrible medical conditions, coming home to the United States in a prisoner swap. Much more on this ahead, including hopefully a conversation with his family.