WNBA star Brittney Griner was released from Russian a penal colony and is on her way back to the United States, the Biden administration announced Thursday.
The release also included the freeing of Viktor Bout, a convicted arms dealer nicknamed the “Merchant of Death,” who was released by the Biden Administration from a federal prison in Illinoise in a one-for-one prisoner swap. The swap excluded retired U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, languishing in a Russian prison since 2018 on charges of spying.
Griner is a two-time Olympic gold medalist.
Bout was a Soviet military translator before the collapse of the Soviet Union. He used his connections and multiple companies to smuggle weapons from Eastern Europe to Africa and the Middle East. He was arrested in a sting operation in 2008 and extradited to the United States, where he was convicted of trying to kill U.S. citizens and officials, delivery of anti-aircraft missiles, and giving aid to a terrorist organization. He was serving a 25-year prison sentence.
Bout allegedly delivered surface-to-air missiles to Kenya for an attack on an Israeli airliner in 2002, according to the Washington Free Beacon. “And four years later, Bout reportedly met with Islamic terrorist organization Hezbollah prior to the Lebanon war. The ‘Merchant of Death'”‘ also had a ‘considerable commercial presence in Libya’ during former leader Muammar Qaddafi’s reign, according to intelligence records found in the country in 2011.”
“Moments ago I spoke to Brittney Griner,” President Joe Biden wrote on Twitter. “She is safe. She is on a plane. She is on her way home.”
Griner was in Russia playing offseason basketball when she was detained by Russian law enforcement after cannabis oil was found in her possession.
“After months of being unjustly detained in Russia, held under intolerable circumstances, Brittney will soon be back in the arms of her loved ones, and she should have been there all along,” Biden said during remarks from the White House on Thursday. “This was a day we worked toward for a long time.”
He asked the media to give Griner time and space to heal. “Brittney is an incomparable athlete, a two-time Olympic gold medalist for team U.S.A.,” Biden said. “She endured mistreatment and a show trial in Russia with characteristic grit and incredible dignity.
“We have not forgotten about Paul Whelan, who has been unjustly detained in Russia for years,” Biden said. “This was not a choice of which American to bring home. We brought home Trevor Reed when we had a chance earlier this year. Sadly, for totally illegitimate reasons, Russia is treating Paul’s case differently than Brittney’s, and while we have not yet succeeded in securing in Paul’s release, we are not giving up. We will never give up. We remain in close touch with Paul’s family, and my thoughts and prayers are with them today.”