Brittney Griner has been released from Russia in a prisoner swap

Published December 8, 2022 at 8:38 AM EST
Brittney Griner inside a defendant's cage during a hearing in Moscow in August
Evgenia Novozhenina
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AFP via Getty Images
Brittney Griner inside a defendant's cage during a hearing in Moscow in August.

WNBA star Brittney Griner, who was held for months in Russian prisons on drug charges, has been released in a prisoner swap for international arms dealer Viktor Bout.

Here's what we know:

  • During a press conference, Biden said Griner was relieved to be released: “She is safe. She is on a plane. She is on her way home."
  • Former Marine Paul Whelan, another American detained in Russia, was not included in the swap, but Biden said his team is continuing to work for his release.
  • Bout, once known as the world's most notorious arms dealer, was swapped for Griner at the Abu Dhabi airport this morning following his release from an Illinois prison.
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This live blog is no longer being updated -- but NPR's reporting continues

Posted December 8, 2022 at 12:52 PM EST

Speaking at a press conference earlier this morning, President Biden said that Brittney Griner deserves rest and privacy upon landing back in the U.S.

It's unclear when she might speak publicly.

NPR will stop updating this blog for today, but we'll continue reporting on Griner, Paul Whelan and U.S.-Russia relations on our other platforms. For the latest updates, visit NPR.org or tune in to your local member station.

Thanks for joining us.

Paul Whelan says he's disappointed and ready to go home

Posted December 8, 2022 at 12:37 PM EST

Paul Whelan, the former U.S. Marine who has been held in Russia since 2018, says he is happy that Brittney Griner is free but disappointed that the same is not true for him.

Speaking to CNN from a penal colony in a remote part of Russia, Whelan expressed surprise that he wasn't included in the prisoner swap and frustration that the Biden administration has not done more to secure his release.

"I am greatly disappointed that more has not been done to secure my release, especially as the four-year anniversary of my arrest is coming up. I was arrested for a crime that never occurred,” he said. “I don’t understand why I’m still sitting here.”

Senior administration officials told reporters on a conference call Thursday that Griner's release was secured after months of talks and a number of proposals that had also aimed to free Whelan — which Russia had refused.

“This was not a situation where we had a choice of which American to bring home," an official said. "It was a choice between bringing home one particular American — Brittney Griner — or bringing home none."

Whelan said he was told that because Russia has accused him of being a spy, it has put him "at a level higher" than Griner and Trevor Reed, who was released in April. Whelan has denied the charges against him, and U.S. officials have denounced his trial as unfair.

Whelan told CNN that he had spoken with a U.S. official on Thursday about the situation and said he would like to speak directly with Biden. The president intends to speak with Whelan's family, the official told reporters.

“I would say that if a message could go to President Biden, that this is a precarious situation that needs to be resolved quickly,” Whelan said. "My bags are packed. I’m ready to go home. I just need an airplane to come and get me."

Reaction

Civil rights groups praise Griner's release

Posted December 8, 2022 at 12:22 PM EST

The president and CEO of the National Urban League, joined by 92 affiliate organizations, issued a statement on Thursday praising Griner's release from Russian custody.

"She has been wrongfully detained and used as a political pawn during an ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine," Marc H. Morial said. "Brittney's detention has been an indefensible and agonizing attack not only on Griner herself, but her wife, and her family."

Separately, Rev. Al Sharpton issued a statement on behalf of the National Action Network, calling for ministers to pray for Griner's healing and Paul Whelan's release.

"Today, we gladly applaud the administration for the hard work of ensuring Brittney’s imprisonment finally came to an end," he wrote.

"My prayers for her and her family remain as strong today as ever, because her journey is far from over. Brittney returns home with spiritual and emotional wounds that can only heal now that she’s free."

Sharpton and other religious leaders pushed to meet with Griner while she was detained in order to pray over her physical condition, but were unsuccessful.

What prominent Democrats are saying about Griner's release

Posted December 8, 2022 at 12:05 PM EST

Prominent Democrats are sharing their delight on social media over Brittney Griner's return and praising the Biden administration for making it possible.

Among them are former President Barack Obama, who said he was grateful for Griner's "long-overdue release."

"Kudos to [Biden] and his administration for the difficult diplomatic work involved to make it happen," he added. We’re looking forward to having Brittney back home."

Former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton called it "just incredibly good news."

"Thank you to President Biden and everyone in the administration who made this happen, as well as the advocates who pushed for it," she tweeted.

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), who last week was elected the leader of House Democrats, tweeted that he was thankful to hear Griner is free.

"President Biden gets it done. Again," he wrote, adding a row of American flag emojis.

U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona — where Griner's team is based — called the development "wonderful news for Arizona and our entire nation." And she said there is more work to be done.

"Following her wrongful detainment earlier this year, we've closely engaged with [the State Department] and introduced a bipartisan resolution calling for Brittney's release," she wrote. "I know we're all relieved the day has come. Arizona – and America – welcomes her back with open arms."

Griner's basketball team and the WNBA praise her release

Posted December 8, 2022 at 11:47 AM EST

The Phoenix Mercury, which has tweeted a regular count of days that passed since Griner's detention 10 months ago, took to social media platform again on Thursday morning to end its pattern.

"No more days," the team wrote in a post. "She's coming home."

Fans responded to the post with heart emojis, words of gratitude and wishes for a peaceful journey.

"We love you," one wrote. "It is long overdue but you fight the good fight."

The WNBA tweeted its celebratory response as well.

WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert also issued a statement, saying Brittney exhibited "extraordinary courage" in the face of "enormous adversity," and expressed hope for Paul Whelan's return.

"There has not been a day over the past ten months where we haven't all had Brittney Griner on our minds and in our hearts," she wrote. "That has now turned into a collective wave of joy and relief."

NBA commissioner Adam Silver echoed Engelbert's remarks about Brittney's endurance and thanked the WNBA community for its unwavering efforts to raise awareness of Griner's detention.

Reaction

Republican politicians and pundits criticize the swap as a bad deal for the U.S.

Posted December 8, 2022 at 11:37 AM EST

As Americans woke up to the news of Griner's release early Thursday, politicians and pundits took to social media to attack the swap, framing it as a bad move on the White House's part.

"Imagine the precedent this is going to set going forward with Russia," wrote Benny Johnson, host of a show on conservative Newsmax, zeroing in on the severity of Bout's crimes.

Doug Collins, a former Republican representative from Georgia, described the deal as a "slap in the face to Americans."

Other reactions focused on the exclusion of Whelan and the perceived lack of patriotism from Griner. Here's a sample:

What Griner's release means for Biden politically

Posted December 8, 2022 at 11:25 AM EST

Today's announcement was welcome news to many. President Biden said his administration has worked tirelessly to secure Brittney Griner's release from the outset and has now made good on that pledge.

What does that mean for him politically? Morning Edition's Rachel Martin asked NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith, who was in the room when the announcement was made.

Keith says getting Griner home is "a win, no question."

"Bringing home Americans wrongfully detained in other countries is something that presidents Obama and Trump also prioritized when they were in the office; it's the sort of thing that's celebrated widely," she added. "But often these stories prove to be more complicated over time, as people examine what the U.S. had to give up to secure their release — or in this case, with [Paul] Whelan still imprisoned, despite efforts to have him freed along with Griner."

Listen to their conversation here.

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U.S. officials decline to say whether Prince Mohammed bin Salman was involved in talks

Posted December 8, 2022 at 11:05 AM EST
Senior administration officials designed to say whether Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, pictured here at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Bangkok on Nov. 18, 2022, was involved in the prisoner-swap. A joint statement from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates took credit for mediating the exchange.
Athit Perawongmetha/Pool
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AFP via Getty Images
Senior administration officials designed to say whether Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was involved in the prisoner swap. A joint statement from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates took credit for mediating the exchange.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates issued a joint statement taking credit for mediating Brittney Griner's release through dialogue with both the U.S. and Russia.

The statement offered details about the exchange, saying that Abu Dhabi received Griner on Thursday by private plane from Moscow in conjunction with the reception of Russian citizen Viktor Bout on a private plane from Washington.

The swap happened “in the presence of specialists from the UAE and Saudi Arabia” the statement said. Then officials from the U.S. and Russia “claimed their citizens” for transfer, the statement added.

This isn’t the first time Saudi Arabia has successfully mediated a prisoner exchange since Russia invaded Ukraine. In September,the kingdom’s efforts led to the release of 10 prisoners of various nationalities as part of an exchange between Russia and Ukraine.

Speaking on a conference call Thursday, senior administration officials declined to say whether Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was involved in talks to secure Griner’s release, but said that the administration had worked with other countries on the matter. The joint Saudi-UAE statement said the mediation efforts had been led by the Saudi crown prince and the UAE's President, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed.

U.S.-Saudi relations made headlines this weekafter a court honored the Biden administration's guidance to shield bin Salman from a lawsuit over the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

A reminder of why Griner was in Russia in the first place: basketball's gender pay gap

Posted December 8, 2022 at 10:49 AM EST
Brittney Griner runs on the court during a game.
Christian Petersen
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Getty Images
Brittney Griner pictured on the court during the WNBA semifinals last October.

Brittney Griner has been freed from Russia, 10 months after she was first detained at a Moscow-area airport with less than a gram of hash oil in her luggage.

She was in the country to play for Russia's UMMC Ekaterinburgbasketball team, as she has during the WNBA's offseason since 2014.

Griner, a seven-time WNBA All-Star who plays for the Phoenix Mercury, is one of many WNBA players who head overseas during the offseason — for the money. That's because female basketball players make far less than their male counterparts in the U.S.

"The reality is, she's over there because of a gender issue — pay inequity," said Nneka Ogwumike, the head of the WNBA players union, in an April interview withABC'sGood Morning America. "We go over there to supplement our incomes, and quite frankly, we go over there to maintain our game."

As NPR has reported:

As of a union agreement signed in 2020, the average income of a WNBA player was less than $130,000, with salaries maxing out somewhere around $500,000. It's a stark contrast to the salaries earned by top male NBA players, which often go up to tens of millions of dollars.

For female players, the salaries offered by foreign leagues can be a real draw. As of 2015, UMMC Ekaterinburg was paying Taurasi a reported $1.5 million per season.

Read more here about basketball's gender pay gap — and the WNBA's push for change.

Brittney Griner is free, but dozens of other Americans remain in overseas detention

Posted December 8, 2022 at 10:37 AM EST

Since the time of her arrest in February, Brittney Griner’s case has drawn new attention to the issue of Americans being wrongfully detained by foreign powers.

In all, 58 Americans are being held hostage or wrongfully detained abroad, according to a count by the James W. Foley Legacy Foundation. And it’s a problem that’s gotten steadily worse over the last decade, according to a September study from the foundation.

Their analysis found that at least 153 Americans have been wrongfully detained by state actors since 2001, a figure the authors see as an emerging threat to national security given the steep price foreign governments typically demand for a captive's release.

And with an average of 11 new U.S. nationals being detained each year — and the number of releases unable to keep pace with the number of new captives — the challenge facing U.S. negotiators has been building. From 2001 to 2011, roughly five U.S. nationals on average were being wrongfully held each year, according to the Foley Foundation. Since 2012, that number has shot up to an average of about 34 per year.

The increase corresponds with what the study’s authors say is a “worrisome trend” in the number of nations holding Americans.

For years, it was largely terrorist organizations and other militant groups that took Americans hostage. Now, a growing list of nations is targeting U.S. nationals in an attempt to exert political leverage over Washington. From 2001 to 2005, just four countries were wrongfully detaining U.S. nationals, according to the Foley Foundation. This year, the number stands at 19.

The bulk of incidents involve nations where the U.S. has extensive sanctions in place: Iran, China, Venezuela, North Korea, Syria and Russia. Taken together, they account for nearly two-thirds of all wrongful detention cases.

Read more here.

Griner's release is bittersweet for the family of longtime detainee Paul Whelan

Posted December 8, 2022 at 10:24 AM EST
Paul Whelan was detained in Russia in 2018, and is serving a 16-year prison sentence.
Kirill Kudryavtsev
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AFP via Getty Images
Paul Whelan, a former U.S. Marine accused of spying, stands in a defendants' cage during a 2019 court hearing in Moscow.

Brittney Griner's release is both a source of celebration and sadness for the family of Paul Whelan, the 52-year-old former U.S. Marine who has been detained in Russia since 2018.

Whelan's family said in a statement Thursday that U.S. officials had let them know a day in advance that Whelan would be left behind in today's prisoner swap. That was not the case in April, when 30-year-old former U.S. Marine Trevor Reed was released in exchange for jailed pilot Konstantin Yaroshenko.

"That early warning meant that our family has been able to mentally prepare for what is now a public disappointment for us," David told the Detroit News. "And a catastrophe for Paul. I do not know if he is aware yet, although he will surely learn from Russian media. Our parents have had calls with him every day since his return to IK-17 on December 2d, and they will surely speak to him soon."

However, Whelan also said he is happy for Griner and her loved ones, adding that "there is no greater success than for a wrongful detainee to be freed and for them to go home."

"As the family member of a Russian hostage, I can literally only imagine the joy she will have, being reunited with her loved ones, and in time for the holidays," he wrote. "The Biden Administration made the right decision to bring Ms. Griner home and to make the deal that was possible, rather than waiting for one that wasn't going to happen."

Jonathan Franks, spokesperson for the Bring Our Families Home Campaign, said in a statement that while "we celebrate Brittney's homecoming, our hearts break for the Whelan family."

"Paul Whelan has been let down and left behind at least three times by 2 Presidents," he added. "He deserves better from his government, and our Campaign implores President Biden to urgently secure Paul’s immediate return using all tools available."

The U.S. included Whelan in its original prisoner swap proposal, but Biden said that "for totally illegitimate reasons, Russia is treating Paul's case differently than Brittney's." He pledged on Thursday to continue working to bring Whelan home.

Moscow calls it a trade. Washington says Griner was ‘released’

Posted December 8, 2022 at 10:16 AM EST
President Biden, with Brittney Griner's wife, Cherelle Griner, did not take questions after his statement today.
Brendan Smialowski
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AFP via Getty Images
President Biden, with Brittney Griner's wife, Cherelle Griner, did not take questions after his statement today.

The two sides of the prisoner swap that freed American Brittney Griner and Russian Viktor Bout are using very different language to describe the deal.

President Biden and the White House have steered clear of calling this a prisoner swap, focusing instead on Griner’s release after being detained for months in Russia — and her being sentenced to nine years in prison on drug smuggling charges, in a case the U.S. has maintained is politically motivated.

Moscow and state-run media are trumpeting news of the swap, with Russia’s foreign ministry saying Griner, a WNBA star, and Bout, a convicted arms dealer, were exchanged on Thursday at an airport in Abu Dhabi.

The distinction underlines the sensitivity of what Biden called “intense negotiations” to secure Griner’s release. He also mentioned the continuing plight of Paul Whelan, the American who has been sentenced to a lengthy prison term on what he and the U.S. say are fictitious espionage charges.

“This was not a choice of which American to bring home,” Biden said, noting that the U.S. had managed to secure Trevor Reed’s release in the summer.

“Sadly, for totally illegitimate reasons, Russia is treating Paul’s case differently than Brittney’s,” Biden said, adding that the U.S. will keep pushing for Whelan’s release.

While Biden spoke about Whelan, he did not mention Bout, who for months was seen as the bargaining chip that might win Griner's freedom. Bout was sent to a federal prison in Illinois after a U.S. court convicted him in 2011.

“What has Russia gotten in return for this prisoner swap, Mr. President?” a reporter yelled as the president concluded his press briefing.

But Biden didn’t take any questions after making the long-anticipated announcement, other than to say Griner would be home within 24 hours.

After the White House announcement, senior Biden administration officials acknowledged the prisoner swap.

In a conference call with NPR and other reporters, the officials said Bout was already slated to be freed in 2029, noting that he’s served 12 years of his sentence. President Biden ordered Bout to be released as an act of clemency, an official said, but the Russian’s criminal conviction still stands.

Griner is the second American detainee released from Russia this year

Posted December 8, 2022 at 10:07 AM EST
A poster of Reed in his Marine uniform hangs on a fence outside the White House.
Anna Moneymaker
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Getty Images
A banner with a picture of Trevor Reed hangs near the White House during a protest by his parents in March 2022. He was released the following month.

This is the second high-profile prisoner swap between the U.S. and Russia in 2022.

In April, 30-year-old former U.S. Marine Trevor Reed was released in exchange for jailed pilot Konstantin Yaroshenko.

Reed was detained during a 2019 visit to Moscow, accused of attacking a police officer and sentenced the following year to nine years in jail. His release came shortly after he held a second hunger strike to protest his treatment by Russian authorities, amidst reports of declining health and following years of advocacy by his family.

Yaroshenko was sentenced in 2011 to 20 years in prison for conspiring to import more than $100 million worth of cocaine into the U.S.

"The negotiations that allowed us to bring Trevor home required difficult decisions that I do not take lightly," President Biden said at the time.

Russian- and English-language independent news site Meduza reported in October that Russian President Vladimir Putin had appointed Yaroshenko to the Civic Chamber, an advisory body within the government.

According to Meduza's translation, the presidential order refers to him as a "human rights activist and public figure."

Biden vows to keep working to bring Paul Whelan home from Russia too

Posted December 8, 2022 at 9:55 AM EST
Paul Whelan, a former US marine accused of espionage and arrested in Russia in December 2018, stands inside a defendants' cage as he waits to hear his verdict in Moscow on June 15, 2020.
Kirill Kudryavtsev
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AFP via Getty Images
Paul Whelan, a former U.S. marine accused of espionage and arrested in Russia in December 2018, stands inside a defendant's cage as he waits to hear his verdict in Moscow on June 15, 2020.

As the Biden administration celebrates the homecoming of one prominent American detained in Russia, it's pledging to continue working to secure the release of another who's been there even longer.

Former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan was detained in Moscow in 2018 on espionage charges, found guilty in a closed trial and is now nearly three years into a 16-year prison sentence.

"He is probably as well as you could be in a Russian labor camp," his twin brother David told NPR in April of this year. "They don't provide nutritional meals, and they don't really take too much care of the prisoners. There's a lot of corruption and other abuse. So I think he does his best to stay out of people's way."

At the end of November, Whelan was briefly transferred from a penal colony to a prison hospital. He spoke to his family last Friday, after a week of silence that had prompted concern in the White House over his whereabouts and condition.

Brittney Griner is the second American detainee to be released from Russia this year after Trevor Reed was freed in a prisoner swap in April.

The first U.S. proposal to bring Griner home, in June, had originally included Whelan. But as President Biden said at his Thursday news conference, "Sadly, for totally illegitimate reasons, Russia is treating Paul's case differently than Brittney's."

Biden stressed that "this was not a choice of which American to bring home," and that efforts to secure Whelan's release are ongoing. He said during his prepared remarks, and answering a reporter's question, that his administration is in close touch with Whelan's family.

"My thoughts and prayers are with them today, they have to have such mixed emotions today," he said. "And we'll keep negotiating in good faith for Paul's release, I guarantee that ... I urge Russia to do the same, to ensure Paul's health and humane treatment are maintained until we are able to bring him home."

Just In

Secretary of State Antony Blinken says Paul Whelan's release is 'long overdue'

Posted December 8, 2022 at 9:16 AM EST

In a State Department statement released early Thursday, Secretary Antony Blinken thanked the State Department team involved in negotiations and Special Presidential Envoy Roger Carstens, who is accompanying Brittney back to the U.S.

"While we celebrate Brittney’s release, Paul Whelan and his family continue to suffer needlessly," Blinken continued. "Despite our ceaseless efforts, the Russian Government has not yet been willing to bring a long overdue end to his wrongful detention.:"

"I wholeheartedly wish we could have brought Paul home today on the same plane with Brittney. Nevertheless, we will not relent in our efforts to bring Paul and all other U.S. nationals held hostage or wrongfully detained abroad home to their loved ones where they belong."

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Griner's wife, Cherelle, says she is overwhelmed by emotions

Posted December 8, 2022 at 9:12 AM EST
Cherelle Griner, wife of Brittney Griner, speaks after President Biden announced her release from Russian custody Thursday.
Chip Somodevilla
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Getty Images
Cherelle Griner, wife of Brittney Griner, speaks after President Biden announced her release from Russian custody Thursday.

Flanked by President Biden and Vice President Harris, Cherelle Griner said she was overwhelmed by emotions, expressing gratitude to members of the administration involved in securing her wife’s release, the WNBA and Griner’s agent.

"For the last nine months, you all have been so privy to the darkest time of my life," she told the press.

"Today my family is whole, but as you all are aware, there are so many families that aren't whole."

“BG and I will remain committed to the work of getting every American home, including Paul."

Neither Biden nor Cherelle Griner took questions from the press.

Who is Viktor Bout, the Russian arms dealer the U.S. is trading for Griner?

Posted December 8, 2022 at 9:07 AM EST
Viktor Bout, in an orange jumpsuit, walks down a hallway escorted by security guards.
Pornchai Kittiwongsakul/AFP via Getty Images
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AFP
Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout is escorted by security guards at the Criminal Court in Bangkok in August 2009, before he was extradited to the U.S.

Russia has released WNBA star Brittney Griner, who was sentenced to nine years in prison for bringing less than a gram of hash oil into the country when she arrived in February to play for its basketball league.

Russia's Foreign Ministry confirmed that her freedom was part of a one-to-one prisoner swap in which the U.S. released international arms dealer Viktor Bout, who has been nicknamed "The Merchant of Death."

“As a result of intense efforts we managed to agree with the American side on organization of an exchange of Bout for Griner," it said in a statement. "The Russian citizen has been returned to his homeland.”

NPR's Greg Myre brought us this explainer on Bout over the summer, when his name was first floated as part of a possible deal to free Griner. Here's an excerpt:


Bout was in his mid-20s when the Soviet Union fractured in 1991, leaving vast quantities of Soviet military hardware scattered across 15 newly minted countries. Most all of them were ill-equipped to pay their troops or keep track of the weapons they'd just inherited. Almost anything was available for a price.

Trained by the Soviet military as a linguist, Bout began acquiring Soviet military transport planes and loaded them up with weapons. The U.S. says he sold them all over the world. Various reports linked him to wars in Afghanistan, Angola, Congo, Lebanon, Somalia, Yemen and more.

He was entrepreneurial, not ideological, selling to governments that were fighting rebels, and to rebels who were fighting governments. Separating fact from fiction has often been difficult when documenting Bout's work, but many reports said he even sold arms to both sides in the same conflict.

Bout always denied he was selling weapons, claiming he was flying flowers and frozen chickens to some of the world's most violent places.

He was always hard to pin down, but he lived openly in Moscow, traveled widely, occasionally spoke to reporters and seemed to welcome at least some of the attention. He became so notorious that Hollywood made a 2005 movie loosely based on his life, called the Lord of War, starring Nicolas Cage.

Bout was nicknamed "The Merchant of Death," which was also the title of a biography.

Despite facing international sanctions and threats of arrest, Bout managed to stay a step ahead of law enforcement until 2008, when he was captured in a sting operation in Thailand, organized by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency.

The Thais extradited Bout to the U.S. two years later, where he was charged with conspiring to kill Americans. He was convicted in a Manhattan court in 2011, and is a little less than halfway through his 25-year sentence at a prison in Marion, Ill.

Just In

Biden says Griner is safe and relieved

Posted December 8, 2022 at 8:53 AM EST
President Biden speaks on the release of WNBA star Brittney Griner from Russian custody at the White House this morning.
Chip Somodevilla
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Getty Images
President Biden speaks on the release of WNBA star Brittney Griner from Russian custody at the White House this morning.

Speaking at the White House on Thursday, President Biden reiterated that Brittney Griner is safe and on a plane home after months of being detained in a Russian prison over drug charges.

"This is a day we worked towards for a long time," Biden said. "We never stopped pushing for her release. It took painstaking and intense negotiations."

“These past few months have been hell” for Griner and her family, Biden said. “She’s lost months of her life, experienced needless trauma.”

Griner’s detention had been a top priority for Biden and his administration. In July, she sent him a handwritten letter, saying, “I’m terrified I might be here forever.” Biden told reporters last month that he hoped Russia would engage in negotiations on a prisoner exchange after the U.S. midterm elections had ended.

Griner, 32, was arrested in February when she arrived to play in the Russian women's professional basketball league. She was carrying less than a gram of hash oil in vape cartridges, which she said in court she had packed by mistake. She provided documents that showed the hash oil was legally prescribed by her U.S. doctor for pain management.

She was sentenced to nine years in a prison colony in Mordovia — 300 miles southeast of Moscow — where she was transferred last month.

Just In

Russia's Foreign Ministry issues a statement confirming the swap

Posted December 8, 2022 at 8:46 AM EST

Ahead of President Biden's speech announcing the news, Russia's Foreign Ministry confirmed the details of the swap on their end.

“The exchange took place at an airport in Abu-Dhabi on December 8th 2022 for Russian citizen Victor Bout and US citizen Britney Griner, both of whom were serving out sentences in prisons in the United States and Russia respectively,” the release said.

“Over the course of a long period of time, the Russian Federation held negotiations with the U.S. for Bout’s freedom. Washington categorically refused dialogue for inclusion of the Russian in any exchange scheme. Nonetheless, the RF continued to actively work towards the extraction of our countryman.

“As a result of intense efforts we managed to agree with the American side on organization of an exchange of Bout for Griner. The Russian citizen has been returned to his homeland.”