WNBA star Brittney Griner has been released from a Russian jail colony in a prisoner exchange, President Joe Biden confirmed Thursday.
“She’s safe, she’s on a plane, she’s on her way dwelling,” Biden mentioned from the White Property, where he was accompanied by Griner’s spouse, Cherelle, and administration officers.
Heading in the other course is arms seller Viktor Bout, nicknamed the “Merchant of Demise.”
Bout is a previous Soviet Army lieutenant colonel who, in accordance to U.S. officials, was trying to promote weapons to be employed versus Us residents. Bout was serving a 25-calendar year sentence at a federal prison in Marion, Illinois, and was set to be produced in August 2029, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons.
Griner was detained Feb. 17 at Sheremetyevo International Airport in Khimki when returning to Russia to play basketball in the course of the WNBA’s off-season, just a 7 days right before Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24.
The Olympic gold medalist was arrested on drug expenses soon after Russian officers alleged Griner had a number of THC vape cartridges in her possession.
Griner confronted a 10-yr optimum prison sentence and was detained indefinitely main up to her trial.
Biden claimed the “past several months have been hell for Brittney” but that she is in very good spirits, right after speaking on the phone with her from the White Residence.
In a statement, Biden insisted he in no way forgot Griner. In spite of Derek Maltz, who oversaw the Drug Enforcement Administration’s investigation of Viktor Bout, becoming reportedly not happy about the trade, the Biden administration explained it was the only path to setting Griner absolutely free.
“Through numerous, several engagements, the Russians built crystal clear that the only route to securing Britney’s return was a launch of a Russian countrywide, Viktor Bout,” said a Biden administration formal. “In the previous 48 hours, as this had all come with each other, Brittney was moved from the penal colony where she was getting held to Moscow, and this morning, she was introduced to the United Arab Emirates, wherever she was met by U.S. officers.”
On ESPN’s “First Take” Thursday early morning, South Carolina women’s basketball coach Dawn Staley, who has talked daily on her social media accounts about Griner’s situation, stated the information of Griner’s launch moved her to tears.
“I cried,” Staley stated, “and I’m a female from Philly, we do not cry pretty simply. But I cried, mainly because this is the moment we’ve all been praying for. I know her coronary heart is for the voiceless, I consider her voice will be as potent as robust can be … when she speaks out, when she advocates for people who have been in the placement she’s been in, that we proceed to wrap our arms all around her, to make certain she has the toughness to carry on to endure the battle that’s ahead of her — because there’s a struggle.”
However, Paul Whelan, a Michigan corporate stability govt jailed in Russia due to the fact December 2018, is nevertheless in Russian custody.
Whelan was arrested on espionage charges that his household and the U.S. federal government have said are baseless.
“We’ve not overlooked about Paul Whelan,” Biden said. “We will maintain negotiating in fantastic faith for Paul’s launch.”