WNBA star Brittney Griner was released by Russia in a prisoner swap with the U.S.
President Joe Biden confirmed the release of Griner Thursday, saying he spoke to her as she landed in the United Arab Emirates, who helped facilitate her return.
“She’s (Brittney Griner) safe. She’s on a plane. She’s on her way home after months of being unjustly detained by Russia,” Biden said in a press conference at the White House. “We never stopped pushing for her release.”
In a one-for-one trade, Russia asked for known arms dealer Viktor Bout, who was in the midst of serving a 25-year federal prison sentence after being captured by the DEA in a 2008 undercover operation in Thailand.
Bout, given the nickname “The merchant of death,” was indicted on four terror-related charges, including “conspiracy to kill Americans,” at the time of his capture. The U.S. said Bout was trafficking weapons with a private fleet of planes and designed a carefully executed operation to get him away from Moscow.
His sentence was commuted by President Biden for the exchange.
Biden added that Griner had written a letter to him in July, asking him to not forget about her and the other American prisoners being detained in Russia. The president then mentioned another American prisoner, Paul Whelan, who has been held by Russia for about four years.
“This was not a choice about which American to bring home,” Biden said. “Sadly, for illegitimate reasons, Russia has treated 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.”
Griner was detained in Russia for 294 days after allegedly finding a vape cartridge with cannabis in her luggage. The Phoenix Mercury star was headed to Moscow in February to play in an offseason league, which she had done since 2014.
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