US President Joe Biden announced early Thursday morning that detained WNBA player Brittney Griner was released from Russian detention as part of a prisoner exchange. Griner was imprisoned for 10 months following her arrest in Russia on drug trafficking charges.
Despite multiple attempts by White House officials to negotiate Griner’s release, she was transferred to a Russian penal colony earlier this year. After extensive negotiations, American officials arranged the release of Griner in exchange for the release of Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout. Bout was serving a 25-year sentence in the United States for selling millions of dollars of weapons which the White House claimed were going to be used against American citizens. The exchange was facilitated by the United Arab Emirates, which hosted the physical exchange of prisoners earlier today in Abu Dhabi.
At a press conference, Biden announced that he spoke with Griner following the exchange, stating, “She’s safe, she’s on a plane, she’s on her way home. After months of being held in Russia under intolerable circumstances, Brittney will soon be back in the arms of her loved ones.” Griner’s wife Cherelle commented:
Over the last nine months you all have been so privy to one of the darkest moments of life and so today I’m just standing here overwhelmed with emotions, but the most important emotion I have right now is just sincere gratitude.
Griner’s case received heavy media coverage and brought to the public’s attention the numerous Americans wrongfully detained in Russia. Early negotiation attempts over Griner’s release also sought to include the exchange of former security executive Paul Whelan. Whelan has been detained in Russia on espionage charges since 2018. President Biden assured Whelan’s family that “we haven’t forgotten about him.”