Accessibility links

Breaking News

Watchdog

Ex-U.S. Marine Trevor Reed was detained in Moscow last year and accused of assaulting police officers. (file photo)

Trevor Reed, a 29-year-old former U.S. Marine, traveled to Moscow in August 2019 to visit his girlfriend. Almost a year later, he languishes in a Russian pretrial detention center, awaiting a verdict on charges that he violently assaulted two police officers on a summer night of which he has almost no recollection.

MOSCOW -- When Trevor Reed traveled to Moscow last summer, it was to study Russian and spend time with his girlfriend Alina Tsybulnik, whom he hoped to marry in September.

But days before he was due to fly home to Texas, Tsybulnik's co-workers hosted a party that would end with the 29-year-old American spending a night at a Russian police station and, ultimately, standing trial on charges of violently assaulting the police officers who brought him there.

On July 29, a Moscow court is expected to issue its verdict in a case that has shaken Reed's family and prompted speculation that the former U.S. Marine has become a pawn in a geopolitical standoff between Russia and the United States.

Charged with the "use of violence dangerous to life and health against a representative of the authorities," Reed has languished in detention since August 2019 and faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison. When the final hearing in his case wrapped up at Golovinsky District Court on July 27, he told RFE/RL that he had lost 20 kilograms and was tired "all the time." He hoped the ordeal would end soon.

"Based on the evidence in my case, I think it's clear what the outcome should be," he said.

Reed claims to have no memory of what happened following the party on August 15, where he says he was encouraged to drink large quantities of vodka. But the events leading up to the police officers' arrival are subject to little dispute.

According to Tsybulnik, in the early hours of August 16 she asked to share a ride with two of her co-workers. On the way, Reed felt nauseous and tried to get out of the vehicle. When the driver pulled up beside the busy road, Reed began drunkenly pacing in dangerous proximity to oncoming traffic. Tsybulnik's co-worker called the police. She then drove off with another colleague, leaving Tsybulnik alone with Reed.

"I wouldn't have called the police myself," Tsybulnik, 22, said in an interview with RFE/RL. She suspects law enforcement took a special interest in Reed on account of his nationality. "After all, he's an American, and we have a strange relationship with America right now."

Inconsistencies And Retractions

Two police officers arrived and took Reed in to sober up, telling Tsybulnik to come back in a few hours and pick him up. When she arrived at the police station around 9 a.m., she said, he was being questioned, without a lawyer or interpreter present, by two men who introduced themselves as employees of the Federal Security Service (FSB), Russia's FBI equivalent. He was accused of endangering the lives of the policemen who brought him in, Tsybulnik was told, by yanking the driver's arm and elbowing another officer who tried to intervene.

But from the outset, the case against Reed has been marred by inconsistencies. Video evidence reviewed in court appeared to show no evidence that the police vehicle swerved as a result of Reed's actions, as alleged by the police officers. Speaking before the judge, the officers themselves have claimed to have no memory of key moments in the journey, have retracted parts of their statements on several occasions, and have failed to answer simple questions from Reed's defense team.

Trevor Reed in the defendants' cage at a Moscow court hearing earlier this year.
Trevor Reed in the defendants' cage at a Moscow court hearing earlier this year.

"Let's put it this way. Almost everything introduced in the trial, that's in the case, has been fairly well disputed," said Reed's father, Joey Reed, who has attended every hearing in his son's trial. "We understand the nature of the judicial system here -- it works differently to what we're used to. But even within this system, there just seems to be a lot of irregularities as to what's going on."

The elder Reed traveled from Texas last September to be near his son, renting an apartment and riding out the height of the coronavirus pandemic in the Russian capital. He has sought to drum up media coverage and regularly updates a website he created and dedicated to Reed's case, where he points out flaws in the evidence and keeps a record of each court session. A clock on the home screen counts the time Reed has spent in a Russian jail.

Americans On Trial

The U.S. Embassy in Moscow has sent a Russian-speaking representative to each court hearing, but Ambassador John Sullivan has made few public remarks about his case.

"The United States Embassy has not visited my son in five months," Joey Reed said. "Their only contact with him was a two-minute phone call last month."

Joey Reed, Trevor Reed’s father, in his rented apartment in north Moscow.
Joey Reed, Trevor Reed’s father, in his rented apartment in north Moscow.

The embassy declined, via its spokeswoman Rebecca Ross, to comment on Reed's case.

Reed is among several Americans whom Russia has placed on trial in recent years on charges that their supporters, and in some cases the U.S. government, have said appear trumped-up. On April 22, speaking about Paul Whelan, another former U.S. Marine tried in Moscow this year, Sullivan said "he is foremost in my thoughts every day as I continue my service as ambassador, along with other Americans who have been detained -- Michael Calvey and Trevor Reed." Calvey, a Moscow-based investor, is under house arrest pending trial on fraud charges he disputes. Whelan was convicted of espionage, a charge he denies, and sentenced to 16 years in prison on June 15, in a ruling Sullivan called "a mockery of justice."

In July 2019, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov called on the United States to free Konstantin Yaroshenko, a Russian pilot serving 20 years on a conviction of conspiracy to smuggle cocaine, and proposed a prisoner swap that would involve the release of a U.S. national held in Russia. Ryabkov did not specify whom he meant, but some took the comment as evidence that Moscow is using Americans like Reed as bargaining chips amid tensions with Washington. Viktor Bout, a Russian gunrunner whose arrest by U.S. authorities inspired the 2005 movie Lord Of War, is another Russian serving time in the United States whom Moscow has sought to repatriate.

'I'm Ashamed'

The last major prisoner swap between the two countries was a decade ago, when Russia sent several prisoners including Sergei Skripal and the United States transferred 10 deep-cover agents operating in suburban America in a case that inspired the hit TV show The Americans.

Joey Reed plans to leave Russia if his son is sentenced to prison, and continue fighting for his release from the United States. "I'm sure the United States government will be involved," he said. "And I will probably be spending a lot of time in Washington, D.C."

Tsybulnik, a Moscow attorney specializing in criminal and international law, said Reed is ready to appeal a conviction before Russia's Supreme Court. If he's released, they will marry and seek to expedite her planned move to the United States.

The case against her partner of more than three years has changed her attitude not only to Russia's legal system, she said, but to her country as a whole.

"There is no evidence of a crime here. This person is not guilty. But they've been trying him for a year -- a year he's spent in jail," she said. "I no longer want to practice law in Russia. I'm ashamed. Ashamed for Russia's reputation."

The detention of journalists on July 28 comes just days after Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka attacked both Russian and Western media outlets for their coverage of developments in his country.

Belarusian police have detained at least 11 journalists near the KGB security service building in the capital, Minsk, in the latest crackdown on the press ahead of the country’s upcoming presidential election.

MINSK -- Belarusian police have detained at least 11 journalists near the KGB security service building in the capital, Minsk, in the latest crackdown on the press ahead of the country’s upcoming presidential election.

The detentions on July 28 occurred as a representative of jailed presidential candidate Viktar Babaryka filed a petition with the KGB to change the terms of his arrest.

The representative, Maria Kolesnikova, was untouched by security forces, but several people were arrested outside the KGB building as they sought to file similar petitions to release Babaryka on his own recognizance.

According to Boris Goretsky, deputy chairman of the Belarusian Association of Journalists, 11 journalists were also detained while covering the event.

All but three were later released, he said on Facebook.

Among those detained were a journalist from Tut.by, four journalists from Belsat TV, two reporters from BelaPAN, a photojournalist from Russia’s TASS news agency, and Reuters journalists.

The Tut.by news website reported that security forces took the journalists to the Zavodskoye District Department of Internal Affairs to check their media accreditation.

The latest detentions have come just days after President Alyaksandr Lukashenka attacked both Russian and Western media outlets for their coverage of developments in Belarus.

He also called for those promoting “mass disturbances” to be expelled from the country because they "don't observe our country's laws."

Lukashenka faces mounting public pressure after 26 years in power and an energized opposition ahead of the August 9 presidential election in which he is seeking a sixth presidential term.

Hundreds of people, including activists and bloggers, have been detained or arrested as the government cracks down hard on rallies and demonstrations supporting opposition candidates, who were not registered by election officials.

On July 14 and 15, at least 17 journalists were detained while covering protests against the electoral body's decision to deny opposition presidential candidates Valery Tsapkala and Babaryka the ability to register in the upcoming election, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

In June, Belarusian authorities detained at least 14 journalists for allegedly participating in unsanctioned protests, and in May, five journalists covering opposition candidates were detained.

Belarusian presidential candidate Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya
Belarusian presidential candidate Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya

Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya has emerged as the opposition's main candidate against strongman Lukashenka.

She became a presidential candidate because her jailed husband, well-known vlogger Syarhey Tsikhanouski, was incarcerated after he openly expressed his intention to run for president.

Tsikhanouskaya is campaigning with the representatives of two opposition candidates who were denied registration as presidential candidates -- former Belgazprombank head Babaryka and prominent businessman Tsapkala.

Babaryka, who was viewed as a potentially potent rival to Lukashenka, was jailed in June on suspicion of money laundering, bribery, and tax evasion. He rejected the charges as politically motivated.

With reporting by Tut.by

Load more

About This Blog

"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.

Subscribe

Journalists In Trouble

RFE/RL journalists take risks, face threats, and make sacrifices every day in an effort to gather the news. Our "Journalists In Trouble" page recognizes their courage and conviction, and documents the high price that many have paid simply for doing their jobs. More

XS
SM
MD
LG