Brittney Griner released from Russian custody in a high-level prisoner swap

WNBA star Brittney Griner has been held in Russia since February of this year. When Russia invaded Ukraine, the American State Department told Americans in Russia to GTFO as soon as possible. Griner was stopped at the airport and the Russian security found her carrying weed cartridges, so they got her on a drug charge. Since February, Russia has made an example of Griner, allowing the Western media glimpses of her in prison and in court. She was convicted of smuggling in August, and sentenced to nine years in a penal colony. We’ve known this whole time that the State Dept and Biden administration has been negotiating her release, and we also knew a prisoner swap was likely on the table. Finally, the government got it done. Brittney was released today!!

Brittney Griner, the WNBA star who was held for months in Russian prisons on drug charges, was released Thursday in a one-for-one prisoner swap for international arms dealer Viktor Bout, according to a U.S. official. The one-for-one exchange agreement negotiated with Moscow in recent weeks was given final approval by President Biden within just the last week, according to sources familiar with the deal. The swap, first reported by CBS News, took place on Thursday in the United Arab Emirates.

Five former U.S. officials told CBS News the agreement had been reached as of last Thursday.

A White House official said President Biden was in the Oval Office Thursday morning on the phone, speaking with Griner and her wife, and that Vice President Kamala Harris was also in the room. Per standard procedure for freed U.S. prisoners, Griner was expected to quickly undergo a medical evaluation.

To secure Griner’s release, the president ordered Bout to be freed and returned to Russia. Mr. Biden signed the commutation order cutting short Bout’s 25-year federal prison sentence.

Notably, the Griner-for-Bout exchange leaves retired U.S. Marine Paul Whelan imprisoned in Russia. Whelan has been in Russian custody for nearly four years. He was convicted on espionage charges that the U.S. has called false.

[From CBS News]

In November, there was a flurry of activity and reporting around the negotiations and some even said that Russia might have walked away from the table. But they absolutely wanted Viktor Bout back and so here we are. Griner was always going to be treated differently by both countries – Russia was eager to make an example out of the star American athlete, and America was eager to get a high-profile celebrity back home. I’m honestly surprised that it’s such a straight-forward one-for-one prisoner swap, although there’s probably other stuff that we don’t know about right now. Also: there are so many rumors that Vladimir Putin’s health is in serious decline. I wonder if that was a factor too? Hm.

She is safe.
She is on a plane.
She is on her way home.

— President Biden (@POTUS) December 8, 2022

Photos courtesy of Avalon Red, Instagram.

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