MOSCOW — When Trevor R. Reed, a former U.S. Marine, traveled to Moscow from his home in Texas in May 2019, he planned to spend the summer with his Russian girlfriend and take some language lessons.
By August, he was in jail, facing charges of assaulting and endangering the lives of two police officers, accusations that his family and supporters say are fraudulent and politically motivated.
On Thursday, a court in Moscow sentenced Reed to nine years in prison for the August 2019 episode. He has already spent more than 11 months in a Russian jail.
After his sentencing, Reed spoke to the courtroom from the locked metal cage where defendants sit throughout a trial, criticizing what he sees as the political nature of the case and urging the U.S. government to intervene on his behalf.
“I think anyone who has eyes and ears and who has been in this courtroom knows that I’m not guilty,” Reed said.
He added that it was his military affiliation that seemed to have incited the interest of Russia’s Federal Security Service, or the FSB, which questioned him extensively after his arrest.
“They didn’t ask me anything about fighting police; they asked me where I served in the Marine Corps, what deployments I was on,” he said. “Everything about this case is political.”
But prosecutors maintained that Reed went on a rampage that endangered the lives of two police officers, when he attacked them after a day of heavy drinking.
Reed and his family have adamantly denied the allegations that he attacked the officers and say the case against him was unsupported by forensic evidence. Supporters of his cause have likened it to Russia’s recent prosecution of another former Marine, Paul Whelan.
In June, Whelan was sentenced to 16 years in prison on espionage charges during a trial that was closed to the public. A number of observers see the cases as a Russian effort to create leverage for a potential prisoner exchange with the U.S. government.
“It all looks like a provocation designed to obtain a certain resource that can be used later in international negotiations,” Ivan Pavlov, a prominent Russian lawyer, said when presented with the details of Reed’s case. “This can be a bargaining chip.”
Prosecutors in Reed’s case presented little forensic evidence, and the testimony of police officers was inconsistent. Reed’s lawyers said that investigators also waited long enough that CCTV footage from inside the police car had expired and been deleted from the hard drive.
“This case, when I read it, I realized that it was just complete nonsense,” said Sergei V. Nikitenkov, one of Reed’s lawyers.
Reed had met his Russian girlfriend, Alina V. Tsybulnik, 22, on a dating website in 2016. At the time, he was working for a private defense contractor in Afghanistan, and the two later met in person during a vacation in Greece. Tsybulnik also visited Reed in Texas several times over the past four years.
In May 2019, Reed traveled to Russia to spend time with Tsybulnik, who is a lawyer, and learn Russian. One week before he was to leave, Tsybulnik’s friends held a party in a park outside Moscow. At the party, Reed drank more than 23 ounces of vodka, according to his lawyers.
After the party, Tsybulnik’s friends offered to drive the couple home, but during the trip, Reed became increasingly agitated. He asked the driver to stop the car and began running drunkenly near a busy highway, while waving his hands and shouting incoherently, the court heard.
Worried for his safety, his girlfriend and others called police, according to Tsybulnik. Reed said in court that he has no memory of what happened that night after he drank five or six shots of vodka.
Reed’s family speculated in a statement that he “may have been given other substances without his knowledge.”
The police officers took Reed to the police station in their car, and Tsybulnik said she and her friends followed them throughout the journey. At the police station, Tsybulnik was advised to return the following morning to pick up Reed after he sobered up.
When she returned, she found Reed had been beaten up, she said, and one of the police officers demanded $1,000 to let him go. The officer denied the bribery allegation.
An hour later, several officers from the FSB arrived and without an interpreter or lawyer present, interviewed Reed, who had various forms of identification in his wallet confirming his status as a former member of the military.
“The fact that FSB officers appeared means that they were interested in the detained person,” Pavlov, the lawyer, said. “They could have even followed him before.”
Reed was charged with endangering the lives of the police officers. The officers testified that during their trip to the station, Reed grabbed the driver’s arm, causing the car to swerve into the opposite lane. Reed, they said, elbowed one in the stomach.
CCTV footage presented in court did not appear to show the car swerve.
In September, Reed’s father Joey, 60, a retired fire chief, flew to Moscow to help his son with the legal proceedings.
“We want our son home, I don’t care how,” Joey Reed said in an interview.
For two months, Trevor Reed wasn’t allowed an interpreter and was habitually denied medical treatment for his health conditions, his family said. For seven months, investigators didn’t allow family members see him, they said.
John J. Sullivan, the U.S. ambassador to Russia, issued a statement Thursday calling the sentencing the “theater of the absurd.”
Vladimir A. Zherebenkov, a lawyer for Whelan, the other former Marine on trial this summer, said the arrests of Americans in Russia is a form of retaliation after the arrest of Russian citizens in the United States.
“It is natural that a Russian reaction to this followed,” Zherebenkov said in an interview.
Russian authorities have been vocal in condemning the U.S. detention of Russian citizens. Zherebenkov said that Whelan had decided not to appeal his long sentence to help his potential for a prisoner exchange. He is still being held in Moscow’s high-security Lefortovo prison.
High-level negotiations continue over Whelan’s fate, Zherebenkov said, adding that the Russian government would like to exchange him for Viktor Bout, a convicted arms dealer, and Konstantin Yaroshenko, a convicted drug smuggler.
Aleksei Tarasov, a Texas lawyer who represents Bout and Yaroshenko in U.S. courts, said in an interview that he is aware of negotiations between Russian and U.S. representatives, but the final decision has to be made by the two countries’ political leaders.
“People who are interested in the exchange are aware of that case, too,” Tarasov said of Reed’s prosecution. “I know that they are interested in it.”
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.
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