Brittney Griner released by Russia in 1-for-1 prisoner swap for arms dealer Viktor Bout

WashingtonBrittney GrinerThe WNBA star, who spent months in a Russian prison on drug charges, was released Thursday in a one-on-one. Prisoners exchanged for international arms dealers Viktor Boutput an end to the crisis that has led to serious negotiations between the US and the Kremlin to secure its independence.

“He’s safe. He’s on a plane. He’s on his way home,” President Biden said said at the White House, announced the exchange. “After months of being unjustly detained in Russia, in unbelievable circumstances, Brittney will soon be reunited with the people she loves and she should be there forever. Day This is the day we’ve been working for a long time. We never stopped pushing for his release.”

CBS News was the first to report the exchange, which took place in the United Arab Emirates, citing the US leader. The trade deal negotiated with Moscow in recent weeks received final approval from Mr. Biden is just inside last week, according to sources familiar with the agreement.

Five U.S. officials spoke to CBS News in favor of the deal reached about 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. According to the standard for the release of prisoners in the US, Griner is expected to undergo a rapid medical evaluation.

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Mr. Biden said he was “happy to say that Brittney is in good spirits,” and that she was looking forward to getting home. The president dismissed the “artistic attempt in Russia” that put him in prison and said “he is not asking for special treatment.”

In order to get Griner released, the president ordered Bout to be released and returned to Russia. Mr. Biden signed the order shortening Bout’s 25-year prison sentence.

In particular, Griner-for-Bout is a retired US Marine Paul Whelan imprisoned in Russia. Whelan has been in Russia for nearly four years. He convicted of espionage charges which the US has called fake.

“We have not forgotten about Paul Whelan,” Mr. Biden said on Thursday, adding “we will not give up” on securing his release. American officials told reporters that it was clear in discussions with the Russians that the prospect of safe release of Griner and Whelan in exchange for Bout was not to begin with, with one official saying that America had “the choice of bringing home an American – Brittney Griner – or bringing home none.”

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Whelan told CNN in a phone call Thursday that he was glad Griner was free, but said he was “very sorry that more was not done to prevent my release, especially four years ago.” of my arrest.”

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 the discovery of cannabis-derived fuel cartridges in her possession. luggage Griner said she didn’t mean to take the cartridges with her when she went to the country to play in a basketball tournament in Russia during the WNBA offseason.

After five months of diplomatic intervention and several concessions on the exchange — including a previously unannounced proposal by the U.S. this past summer to sent two prisoners back to Russia for two Americans — sources say the one-for-one exchange came together over the past two weeks.

Whelan, who once worked 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 for espionage – a sentence that the US and Whelan refused to accept. This month is the anniversary of Whelan’s time in Russian custody.

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Bout, who was recently incarcerated at a federal prison in Marion, Illinois, was arrested by the Thai Drug Enforcement Administration after a sting operation in 2008. He was sentenced on conspired to kill Americans and began his execution 25 years ago. .

Griner’s arrest coincided with the beginning of February Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, and all of America’s dealings with the Kremlin have been complicated by conflict. The U.S. said Griner and Whelan were “wrongfully imprisoned,” and officials suspected that Russia had used the American prisoners as part of the effort.

Griner’s return to Bout marks the second time Biden has led a prisoner exchange with Russia. In April, the United States transferred Konstantin Yaroshenko, a Russian smuggler convicted of conspiracy to import cocaine, to Trevor Reeda former US Marine who has been imprisoned in Russia for nearly three years.

CBS News learned earlier Thursday that a Griner-for-Bout exchange was in the works but agreed to the White House’s request to withhold the notice because officials had spoken about the matter. seriously worried about the dubious nature of the deal after that.

Biden’s administration has warned that making the terms of the exchange public in advance will almost certainly cause Russia to pull out of the agreement and endanger Griner’s health. .

Nancy Cordes, Ed O’Keefe, Sara Cook, Camilla Schick, Tucker Reals, Haley Ott, Melissa Quinn and Caitlin Yilek helped teach.


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