Brittney Griner arrives in U.S. following her release by Russia in prisoner swap for arms dealer Viktor Bout

Brittney Griner arrived in the US early Friday morning, arriving at Kelly Field in San Antonio, Texas.

The WNBA star, who spent months in a Russian prison on drug charges, was released Thursday in a one-for-one sentence. prisoner exchange for a prominent international arms dealer Viktor Boutbringing a bitter end to the bitter negotiations between Washington and Moscow to secure its independence.

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Roger Carstens, the president’s special representative for consumer affairs, tweeted“Happy to have Brittney back on US soil. Welcome home BG!”

In the standard procedure for released US prisoners, Griner is expected to undergo a quick medical examination.

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American basketball star Brittney Griner is seen exiting a plane upon arrival at Kelly Field in San Antonio on December 9, 2022, after being released from a Russian prison for being an arms dealer famous.


President Biden announced Griner’s upcoming return Thursday morning at the White House, saying, “Okay. He’s on a plane. He’s going home.”

“After months of being wrongfully detained in Russia, held in unbearable conditions, Brittney will soon be home to the people she loves,” Mr Biden said. that he should be there all the time.” “This is the day we have worked for for a long time. We have never stopped advocating for his release.”

CBS News first reported the exchange, which took place in the United Arab Emirates, citing a US official. Five former US officials told CBS News that an agreement was reached last Thursday.

The president said he spoke to Griner by phone from the Oval Office, where he was joined by Griner’s wife Cherelle, Vice President Kamala Harris and Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

APTOPIX Russia Griner
In this image taken from a video provided by the Russian Federal Security Service, WNBA star Brittney Griner sits on a plane as she flies to Abu Dhabi for her exchange for Russian citizen Viktor Bout, on December 9, 2022.

/ AP

Mr. Biden said he was “happy to be able to say that Brittney is in good spirits.” He dismissed the “show case in Russia” that landed him in prison and said “he did not ask for special treatment.”

To secure Griner’s release, the president ordered Bout’s release and return to Russia. Mr. Biden signed the commutation order ending Bout’s 25-year prison term.

Apparently, the Griner-for-Bout exchange left the US Marine retired Paul Whelan imprisoned in Russia. Whelan has been in a Russian prison for almost four years. He he was convicted of espionage and the US lied.

“We haven’t forgotten about Paul Whelan,” Mr. Biden said Thursday, adding “we will not give up” on securing his release.

U.S. officials told reporters that it had become clear that negotiations with the Russians hoping to secure the release of Griner and Whelan in exchange for Bout was a non-starter, and one official said the U.S. had options ‘center to bring one American – Brittney. Griner – or without bringing any home.”

Whelan told CNN in a phone call Thursday that he’s glad Griner is free but he’s “very disappointed that more has not been done to get me out, especially as four years of my detention are coming up.” This month marks the fourth anniversary of Whelan’s time at the hands of the Russians.

Griner, a 32-year-old star center for the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury, was arrested at a Russian airport in February and later pleaded guilty to charges stemming from the discovery of cannabis-derived fuel cartridges in her luggage. Griner said she did not bring the cartridges when she traveled to the country to play on the Russian soccer team during the WNBA offseason.

After five months of political deadlock and various changes in the reform process – including an undisclosed US offer last summer to send two prisoners to Russia for the two Americans – sources say that the change group and group gathered in the summer. last two weeks.

Whelan, who used to work as a security guard, was in Moscow for a friend’s wedding when he was arrested at a hotel in December 2018. Russian authorities later sentenced him to 16 years in prison. prison for espionage – a US charge that Whelan denies.

Bout, who was recently arrested at a federal prison in Marion, Illinois, was arrested by Thailand’s Drug Enforcement Administration after a sting operation in 2008. He was known convicted of conspiracy to kill Americans and began his 25-year sentence a decade ago. .

Griner was arrested in early February Russia’s senseless attack on Ukraine, and all US relations with the Kremlin have been complicated by the dispute. The US has said that Griner and Whelan were ‘arrested wrongfully,’ and officials have suspected that Russia is using American prisoners.

Griner’s return to Bout marks the second time the Biden administration has exchanged prisoners with Russia. In April, the US indicted Russian cocaine importer Konstantin Yaroshenko for conspiracy to import cocaine. Trevor Reeda former US Marine who was imprisoned in Russia for nearly three years.

CBS News learned last Thursday that the Griner-for-Bout swap was in the works but acknowledged that the White House asked to hold the news because officials expressed serious concerns about the fragility of the deal. come out then.

Biden’s administration officials warned that explaining the details of the social change ahead of time would actually lead Russia to withdraw from the agreement and could put Griner’s interests at risk.

Nancy Cordes, Ed O’Keefe, Sara Cook, Camilla Schick, Tucker Reals, Haley Ott, Melissa Quinn and Caitlin Yilek contributed to the report.


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