As tensions rise while Russia continues to station troops near the Ukraine border, the U.S. State Department Tuesday reiterated its call for the release of two Marine veterans currently imprisoned by Russian authorities.

Paul Whelan and Trevor Reed are currently being detained in separate Russian prisons, serving sentences for alleged crimes against the state. Ned Price, State Department spokesperson, said that their recovery is a top priority in a Dec. 28 press briefing.

“Three years ago today, Paul Whelan was detained by Russian authorities,” Price said. “He traveled to Russia as a tourist and was imprisoned and sentenced on false charges. Secretary [Antony] Blinken has been very clear about the need for Russia to release U.S. citizens Paul Whelan and Trevor Reed unconditionally and immediately so that they can be home with their families.”

Whelan, 51, originally from Novi, Michigan, is a citizen of the United States, Canada, Ireland and the United Kingdom. He enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserves in 1994, serving two tours in Iraq in 2004 and 2006. Whelan was discharged from the Marine Corps as a staff sergeant in 2008 after receiving a bad conduct discharge.

He was working as a security executive in December 2018 when he was arrested at his Moscow hotel for espionage — a charge Whelan has vehemently denied. He is currently serving a 16-year sentence of hard labor at a prison camp in Mordovia.

“It’s not just the injustice of Russian hostage diplomacy,” Whelan’s brother, David, told Detroit News. “It’s the stolen years with our parents as they age, missing Christmases and birthdays and family time. It’s the stolen life, as one by one, Paul lost his job, his home, his ability to communicate and be with friends. He lost everything he’d known.”

Reed, 30, is a Fort Worth, Texas native and served in the Marine Corps as a presidential guard, once providing security to former President Barack Obama at Camp David. He received an honorable discharge.

Marine Corps veteran Trevor Reed, charged with attacking police, stands inside a defendants' cage during a court hearing in Moscow on March 11, 2020.

Reed is currently serving a nine-year sentence for allegedly assaulting Russian police officers during a night out with his girlfriend in Moscow in 2019. He pleaded not guilty to the charges, stating that he does not remember the incident.

According to his lawyers, the Marine veteran briefly went on a hunger strike last month, protesting his treatment in prison.

“Russian authorities are holding Trevor in a small room with a hole in the floor for a toilet. They will not allow him to communicate in his own language, to receive books or letters, to receive commissary items like other prisoners do, nor will they allow him to use a phone,” Reed’s family said in a statement in November.

Rachel is a Marine Corps veteran and a master's candidate at New York University's Business & Economic Reporting program.

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