Brittney Griner Returning To The U.S. After Prisoner Swap With Russia

U.S. basketball star Brittney Griner is on her way back to the United States after being released in a prisoner swap with Russia, President Joe Biden announced on Thursday, ending what he described as months of “hell.”

Free GrinerPhoto Credit: Shutterstock

The Russian foreign ministry said it swapped Griner for Russian citizen Viktor Bout, infamous arms dealer, at an Abu Dhabi airport in the United Arab Emirates.

“She’s safe, she’s on a plane, she’s on her way home after months of being unjustly detained in Russia, held under intolerable circumstances,” Biden told reporters in a conference at the White House, noting she would arrive within the next 24 hours. “This is a day we’ve worked toward for a long time. We never stopped pushing for her release.”

Griner, a star of the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury, was arrested on Feb. 17. Negotiations to secure her release were exacerbated by Russian’s invasion of Ukraine weeks later and the following implications on their relationship with the U.S.

“These past few months have been hell for Brittney,” and for her wife, Biden stated.

Griner was arrested at a Moscow airport when vape cartridges containing cannabis oil, a substance banned in Russia, were found in her luggage. She was sentenced on Aug. 4 to nine years in a penal colony on charges of smuggling and possessing drugs. She had pleaded guilty, but clarified that she had made an “honest mistake” and never meant to break the law.

Last month she was taken to a penal colony in Mordovia to serve the rest of her prison sentence.

“Today my family is whole,” Griner’s wife said. “BG and I will remain committed to the work of getting every American home.”

Biden made it a point to address concerns around efforts to free Paul Whelan, a former Marine.

“Sadly, for totally illegitimate reasons, Russia is treating Paul’s case differently than Brittney’s. And while we have not yet succeeded in securing Paul’s release, we are not giving up. We will never give up,” Biden said.

Whelan’s brother, David, said the U.S. government provided his family notice in advance, giving them time to prepare for the disappointment.

“I am so glad that Brittney Griner is on her way home,” he said. “The Biden Administration made the right decision to bring Ms. Griner home, and to make the deal that was possible, rather than waiting for one that wasn’t going to happen.”

For experts on the Russian security services, Moscow’s lasting interest in Bout’s return hint strongly at Russian intelligence ties.

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