Brittney Griner Freed in Russian Prisoner Swap

WNBA star Brittney Griner was released Thursday in a prisoner swap with Russia, American and Russian officials said, per the AP.

The move comes in a high-profile exchange for notorious Russian arms dealer and so-called “merchant of death” Viktor Bout.

Griner’s release has been a priority for President Joe Biden since her detainment in March of this year. He tweeted the news of her release Thursday, saying, “Moments ago I spoke to Brittney Griner. She is safe. She is on a plane. She is on her way home.”

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A two-time Olympic gold medalist, Russia announced Griner’s detainment on March 5, 2022, citing vape canisters containing cannabis oil found in her luggage. The canisters were found as the Phoenix Mercury player arrived in Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport to play for a Russian women’s team during the WNBA offseason in February. She pled guilty in July, emphasizing, “I didn’t want to break the law.”

Her nine-year sentence was upheld in a Russian court in October.

Griner’s release in exchange for Bout, who was serving a 25-year sentence after conspiring to sell weapons meant to be used against Americans, comes at a surprising expense to another American being held in Russia: Paul Whelan. Whelan is a Michigan corporate security executive who’s been held under Russian president Vladmir Putin’s order for the last four years on charges of espionage – charges his family and the U.S. government deny.

For months it’s been speculated that Biden’s authorization to release a prisoner as high-level as Bout would come in exchange for both Griner and Whelan.

Speaking alongside President Biden on Thursday, Griner’s wife Cherelle Griner described the WNBA player’s arrest as “one of the darkest moments of my life,” and that her release made her “overwhelmed with emotions, but the most important emotion that I have right now is just sheer gratitude for President Biden and his entire administration.”

“Today my family is whole, but as you are all aware, there are so many other families who are not whole,” she said, adding that she will “remain committed to the work of getting every American home, including Paul [Whelan], whose family is in our hearts today as we celebrate.”

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