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WNBA star Brittney Griner released from Russian custody in prisoner swap

Brittney Griner
Posted at 8:11 AM, Dec 08, 2022

President Joe Biden confirmed WNBA star Brittney Griner has been released from Russian custody as part of a prisoner swap.

"She is safe. She is on a plane. She is on her way home," Biden said on Thursday.

The Associated Press reported the deal was in exchange for Viktor Bout, an international arms dealer.

Biden thanked the United Arab Emirates for facilitating the exchange.

"This is a day we've worked toward for a long time," Biden said. "We never stopped working for her release."

The U.S. said for months it had been working on her release.

"As I think is well known, we put a significant proposal on the table some months ago now, and since then, we’ve had other conversations, other engagements, and we are constantly looking at how we can bring Americans who in one way or another are being arbitrarily detained, whether it’s in Russia or anywhere else, to get them home," Secretary of State Antony Blinken said earlier this week.

While playing in Russia, Griner was arrested in February for possessing hash oil. She was later sentenced to nine years in prison.

Griner maintained that she was using the drug as a prescription.

Biden said Thursday morning that Griner would be back in the U.S. within 24 hours.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver reacted to Thursday's news.

"Brittney has had to endure an unimaginable situation and we're thrilled that she is on her way home to her family and friends," Silver said. "We thank the members of the NBA and WNBA community who never wavered in their efforts to raise awareness of Brittney's unjust circumstances."

The Department of Justice accused Bout of conspiring to sell millions of dollars worth of weapons, including hundreds of surface-to-air missiles and over 20,000 AK-47s to the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia

Bout was convicted on four criminal counts: (1) conspiring to kill U.S. nationals; (2) conspiring to kill U.S. officers and employees; (3) conspiring to acquire and export anti-aircraft missiles; and (4) conspiring to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization.

In 2012, he was sentenced to 25 years in prison.

Biden said the U.S. would continue negotiating for the release of Paul Whelan, who was convicted in Russia for spying. The Biden administration considered both Griner and Whelan "wrongfully detained."

Biden said Griner's release was not a case of the U.S. choosing her over Whelan. Biden added that Russia is treating Whelan's case differently.

"Today, my family is whole," said Cherelle Griner, Brittney's wife, who was in the Oval Office after her release. "But as you all are aware, there are so many families who are not whole. BG is not hear to say this, but I'll gladly speak this on her behalf and say that BG and I will remain committed to the work of getting every American home, including Paul whose family is in our hearts."