Brittney Griner is already on a plane heading back to the United States.
According to a person with knowledge of the situation, WNBA star Brittney Griner was freed from Russian custody in exchange for convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.
A former Soviet military commander also known as the “Merchant of Death,” is currently serving a 25-year jail term in the United States after being found guilty of planning to kill Americans, buy and export anti-aircraft missiles, and offer financial assistance to a terrorist group. His 2012 sentencing was criticized by Moscow as being “baseless and biased,” and Bout has said he is innocent.
Griner, who has for years participated in off-season basketball games for a Russian women’s basketball team, has been in detention since February when she was taken into custody at a Moscow-area airport on suspicion of smuggling drugs. She testified that the cannabis oil discovered in her luggage had been packed accidentally; however, she was sentenced to nine years in jail in early August and sent to a penal colony in Mordovia in mid-November after losing her appeal.
Paul Whelan, another American who the State Department claims was wrongly arrested was not exchanged.
At the White House, Cherelle Griner, the wife of Brittney Griner, is with President Joe Biden. The WNBS star is “safe” and “on her way home,” he tweeted alongside two images of Griner.
According to a US official, Biden received updates all morning long while he awaited word that Griner was once again in US custody. Following that, according to a second official, Griner’s wife, Vice President Kamala Harris, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken joined the call between Biden and Griner from the Oval Office.
Viktor Bout has reportedly returned to Russia, the foreign ministry was quoted as saying by state media outlet RIA Novosti on Thursday. According to official media, the prisoner exchange involving WNBA star Brittney Griner was “finished successfully at Abu Dhabi Airport” on Thursday.