A Moscow court has rejected an appeal from one of two former Marines who U.S. officials believe Russia is holding hostage and whose cases have become the focus of a potential prisoner swap between the two countries.
Trevor Reed and another ex-Marine, Paul Whelan, have spent about two years in detention in Russia on separate charges U.S. officials say were fabricated to seize them as bargaining chips.
President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed the Americans’ cases during their summit in Switzerland this month, after which the Kremlin signaled it might be prepared to discuss a deal for their release.
Reed, 29, had appealed a nine-year prison sentence that he received last July in a trial denounced by the U.S.
Moscow’s City Court on Monday rejected that appeal, leaving the sentence unchanged. The ruling potentially means that Reed, who is being held in a pre-trial detention center in Moscow, could now be moved to a prison camp away from the capital.
The ruling was expected by Reed’s representatives and his lawyers said they would now appeal it at a higher court in Russia and, if necessary, take it to the country’s supreme court and the European Court of Human Rights.
In a video released by the court, Reed could be heard saying “no surprises here” as he was led out of a glass cage in handcuffs.
The court did not allow journalists to enter the courtroom, citing coronavirus restrictions.
Reed, whose family lives in Texas, fell into the hands of Russian police following a drunken party in Moscow in August 2019, when he was visiting his girlfriend in the city and studying Russian. Reed was initially taken to a police station to sober up but after he was questioned by agents from Russia’s FSB intelligence service, police abruptly brought charges of assaulting an officer against him, according to his family.
Russia has repeatedly floated the idea of trading Reed and Whelan for Russian citizens jailed in the U.S. Whelan was arrested by FSB agents in late December 2018 and then sentenced to 16 years in prison on spying charges that his family and U.S. officials say are also fabricated.
The Biden administration has said freeing the two men is a top priority and the U.S. ambassador to Moscow, John Sullivan, attended Monday’s hearing.
“Another absurd miscarriage of justice in Russia the world watches,” Sullivan said in a statement after the hearing. “We will not cease to advocate for Trevor and for US citizens denied an open and fair judicial process, a universal human right.”
In his closing statement that he read to the court, Reed accused his trial judge of ignoring "all evidence," including video from a police car interior that he said showed the officers who testified in court had lied.
He noted the extraordinary length of his sentence, which he said was longer than other prisoners had received for being convicted of murder. Some fellow prisoners had nicknamed him “Yury Gagarin” he said, after the first man in space, “because I was the first person who received such a sentence for a minor offense."
He accused authorities of violating his human rights in jail by denying him medical care, blocking contact with the embassy and his family and also placing him in a psychiatric hospital for a time.
“I regret that I was kept in a place with a hole in the floor instead of a toilet and blood on the walls, in places where people made suicide attempts or successfully deprived themselves or others of life. I was kept in places with rats, fed food comparable to prison food in the Middle Ages,” Reed said in the statement, written extracts of which were provided to ABC News by his family.
Although Reed could now be moved to a prison camp, his lawyers on Monday said they did not expect that to happen before his new appeals were resolved or he was released in a possible swap.
Hopes that a deal to get the men home might be possible following Putin and Biden’s summit.
After the summit, Putin told reporters “a compromise might be found” over the Americans’ detention and the Kremlin has since said the two sides should sit down and begin work on getting an agreement.
Sullivan on Monday declined to comment on any possible negotiations, except to say that he expected discussions to take place.
“I expect future discussions between our governments on getting both of those Americans released,” Sullivan said outside the court. “It is of great importance to President Biden.”
One major obstacle to any deal previously has been the Russian proposal that it include Viktor Bout, one of the world’s most notorious arms dealers and whose release is viewed as a non-starter by U.S. officials.
But Russia has also hinted at other Russians currently serving sentences in the U.S. that it would like released, including Konstantin Yaroshenko, a pilot sentenced to 20 years in prison on drug smuggling charges after he was arrested in a DEA sting in Liberia in 2010.
After the Geneva summit, Reed’s parents said Putin’s words had given them hope a deal was possible.
“I think it’s huge. I really do,” Reed’s mother, Paula Reed, told ABC News after Putin spoke.
Biden told reporters at the summit that his administration would follow through on the discussion with Russia about the two men and that he would “not walk away” from them.
ABC News' Tanya Stukalova in Moscow contributed to this report.