Politics

The fate of two Americans imprisoned in Russia in the hands of Biden and Putin

The release of Paul Whelan, imprisoned for two and a half years, and Trevor Reed, arrested in July 2019, should be discussed Wednesday by the two leaders.

It is a highly anticipated meeting in the United States, that between Joe Biden and Vladimir Poutin. The two leaders will meet on Wednesday June 16 in Geneva . Among the stakes of this interview, the fate of two American prisoners: one for an altercation with the Russian police, the other is accused of espionage. Their families are counting on Joe Biden for their release.

Paul Whelan has been a prisoner in Russia for two and a half years. Wednesday will also be a special anniversary for this former Marine sentenced to sixteen years in prison since it will be 900 days that he is locked up. When he was arrested in December 2018, he was leading security for a US parts group. According to his brother, he was in Russia to attend the wedding of a former comrade in the army, but  for Moscow he would be a spy . In an audio message to his parents, he begs the US president to take him out. Among other things, he would be very worried about the spread of the coronavirus in the prison.

The second prisoner is called Trevor Reed. Former Marine too, aged 29, he was arrested in July 2019 after a too drunken evening, with his Russian girlfriend and her colleagues. Embarked by the Russian police, he would have been violent, according to Moscow. He was sentenced to nine years in prison.

Prisoners or hostages?

During this meeting,  Joe Biden  has a chance of obtaining their release, if Vladimir Putin is to be believed. The question was asked to him on Monday during an interview with NBC television, to which he replied “yes yes, of course”. On the other hand, this will obviously not be a gratuitous act of kindness and the diplomatic teams of the two leaders have undoubtedly already settled the modalities.

The Russian president wants an exchange of prisoners for “humanitarian reasons”. He claims that the list of Russian prisoners in the United States is longer than that of American prisoners in Russia. He notably mentioned the name of Konstantin Yarochenko, a Russian pilot convicted of drug trafficking. The name of Victor Bout, an arms dealer is also mentioned. For those who have seen it, Nicolas Cage interpreted his story in the movie Lord of war .

In the United States, a large part of the political class believes that these two prisoners are in fact hostages. Paul Whelan thinks so too. He thus transmitted an audio message, via his family, in which he proclaims his innocence and implores Joe Biden to put “an end to this appalling case of hostage diplomacy”. Elected officials, whether Democrats or Republicans, ask the head of the White House to be very firm on this issue. Some even want liberation to be a prerequisite for holding the summit.

If he left hope for the release of the American prisoners,  Vladimir Poutine  was very hard on Trevor Reed, arrested after a drunken evening. During the interview with NBC, he called him “a drunkard and troublemaker.” The next few hours will be crucial for these two files, but in any case, there is a scent of cold war.

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