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Two Americans and eight other former POWs from the ukrainian war were released by Russia, thanks to the intervention of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
“This is a fantastic result and shows the importance of continuing to work to achieve results through engagement and dialogue,” Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan said.
In an exclusive interview with Fox News, the Foreign Secretary detailed the months of negotiations that led to the release of the prisoner by the Russian President Vladimir Poutine.
The two Americans, 40-year-old army veteran Alexander John-Robert Drueke and 27-year-old sailor Andy Tai Ngoc Huynh, both from Alabama, traveled to Ukraine to help defend it against the Russian invasion.
They were captured by Russian proxies in June during a firefight in Ukraine’s Donbass region and held in Russia as prisoners of war. They were released on Wednesday, along with five British citizens, a Moroccan, a Swede and a Croat, in an agreement that also includes the return of Russian prisoners of war captured by Ukraine.
“His Royal Highness was able to convince President Putin that this is a worthwhile humanitarian gesture, and that is how we achieved this result,” bin Farhan said.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs also said that Crown Prince Bin Salman spent months on the matter to release the men and establish a credible channel of communication between the two sides.
“His Royal Highness has always believed that dialogue is the primary means of resolving differences, and he made that very clear at the start of this conflict when he reached out to President Putin and President [Volodymyr] Zelensky that we believe there should be a negotiated settlement, and we continue to work on it. And I think that attitude allowed for a really transparent discussion and was able to facilitate this outcome,” said bin Farhan.
I described a long and detailed negotiation that resulted in a prisoner exchange, with Ukraine also releasing 55 Russian POWs and a pro-Putin Ukrainian MP who was being held for treason.
“Issues like this are always extremely complex because there are a number of moving parts,” bin Farhan said. “There were a lot of issues to work out. There were other prisoners, Ukrainian and Russian captives, who needed to be exchanged. So there were a lot of details to sort out and work out.
“You have to give him time. You have to give him patience. And that’s, I think, what the crown prince really put into it.”
The families of the Americans released a joint statement, saying: “We are delighted to announce that Alex and Andy are free. They are safe in the custody of the United States Embassy in Saudi Arabia and after medical checks and a debriefing, they will return to the United States.”
“I feel good,” said the foreign minister. “I just can’t wait to see the photos of them reunited with their loved ones when they return to the United States and Alabama.”
Secretary of State Antony Blinken released a statement that read in part, “I look forward to these American citizens being reunited with their families. We also thank our Saudi partners for helping to lead this humanitarian initiative.”
British Prime Minister Liz Truss tweeted that the release was “extremely welcome news” that ends “months of uncertainty and suffering for them and their families”.
“Prime Minister Truss is someone I respect very much,” bin Farhan said. “We are confident that through his tenure as Prime Minister, we will further strengthen the ties between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United Kingdom.”
He also said bin Salman’s role as a mediator between Putin and Zelensky could pave the way for expanded talks that he hopes will finally lead to an end to the war.
“We believe that engagement is important, that it is essential to work towards a negotiated settlement, a settlement that also respects, of course, Ukraine and the sovereignty of Ukraine and addresses the concerns of all parties in ‘a way that prevents further bloodshed. I think, in the end, what’s most important is that we stop the bloodshed and stop the suffering of civilians who are inevitably affected by any conflict,” he said.
Fox producer Laura Prabucki contributed to this report.