The U.S. has negotiated a prisoner swap that released WNBA star Brittney Griner from a Russian penal colony today. Griner was arrested there in February for possessing cannabis, convicted in August and sent to the colony in October.
In a deal made on Dec. 1, international arms dealer Viktor Bout, jailed in the U.S. on a 25-year sentence for attempting to kill Americans, was traded for Griner. She flew to Abu Dhabi in the UAE and is en route back to the States after Pres. Biden commuted Bout's sentence.
The President tweeted, "Moments ago I spoke to Brittney Griner. She is safe. She is on a plane. She is on her way home." He posted a photo of Griner's wife Cherelle, himself and VP Kamala Harris in the oval office.
Moments ago I spoke to Brittney Griner.— President Biden (@POTUS) December 8, 2022
She is safe.
She is on a plane.
She is on her way home. pic.twitter.com/FmHgfzrcDT
The swap is the White House's December surprise. In a statement, Biden discussed the "intense negotiations" that it took to arrange for Griner's release. "We never stopped pushing for her release," he said. "The past few months have been hell for Brittney, Cherelle, her family and teammates back home. It was a terrible ordeal. She's in good spirits. She's relieved to be finally heading home. She endured mistreatment and a show trial in Russia with characteristic grit and incredible dignity... I'm proud to say we made one more family whole again. Welcome home Brittney."
Biden also spoke about Paul Whelan, who's been detained in Russia since 2018: "Sadly, Russia is treating his case differently. We will keep negotiating in good faith for his release." He did not mention Bout.
Griner returns to Phoenix where she plays for the Mercury. Biden said she'll be back in the U.S. within 24 hours.