Griner, who was held for months in Russian prisons on drug charges, was released Thursday in exchange for international arms dealer Viktor Bout. According to CBS, the one-for-one exchange agreement, which has been in negotiation with Moscow for the last few weeks, was given final approval by President Biden within just the last week.
The prisoner exchange with the WNBA star and two-time Olympic gold medalist was “completed successfully at Abu Dhabi Airport” on Thursday, state media added. Griner is currently on a plane back home to the United States and Bout is on a plane to Russia.
Brittney Griner was in Russian prison for 294 days.
President Biden Speaks To Brittney Griner
President Biden Tweeted early Thursday morning, stating he spoke to the WNBA player and she is “safe” and “on her way home.”
“Moments ago I spoke to Brittney Griner,” the President Tweeted. “She is safe. She is on a plane. She is on her way home.”
Moments ago I spoke to Brittney Griner.
She is safe.
She is on a plane.
She is on her way home. pic.twitter.com/FmHgfzrcDT
— President Biden (@POTUS) December 8, 2022
Brittney Griner was detained at a Russian airport back in February after cannabis-derived oil cartridges were found in her luggage. The WNBA player later pled guilty.
Biden Addresses One-On-One Prisoner Swap
President Biden spoke out about the one-on-one prisoner swap this morning, saying “Brittney is relieved to finally be heading home.”
“She wrote to me back in July,” Biden said of the two-time Olympic gold medalist. “She didn’t ask for special treatment, she requested the simple quote ‘Please don’t forget about me and the other American detainees. Please do everything you can to bring us home’.”
He went on to discuss the one-on-one prisoner swap deal, stating, “After months of being unjustly detained in Russia, held in intolerable circumstances, Brittney will soon be back in the arms of her loved ones and she should have been there all along.”
“This is a day we worked toward for a long time. We never stopped pushing for her release. It took painstaking and intense negotiations,” he continued.
What About Paul Whelan?
Paul Whelan, another American who is currently in Russian prison, was not a part of the swap, but Biden said he will continue working to bring Whelan back home.
This is something Brittney Griner’s wife, Cherelle Griner, said would be her and Brittney’s mission as well moving forward.
Whelan is a former U.S. Marine was arrested at a Moscow hotel in December 2018. He was convicted in June 2020 on “espionage charges that the U.S. government says were manufactured,” per NY Times.
David Whelan, Paul’s brother, spoke out about Griner’s release, writing to the New York Times “There is no greater success than for a wrongful detainee to be freed and for them to go home. 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.”
Who is Viktor Bout?
Viktor Bout, known as the “Merchant of Death”, quickly became one of the world’s most wanted men after he sold arms to warlords and rogue governments.
In 2008, Bout was caught in a U.S. sting and was arrested at a hotel in Bangkok, Thailand. He has spent the last 12 years in an American jail for “conspiring to support terrorists and kill Americans,” per BBC.