WNBA superstar Brittney Griner is back on U.S. soil after 10 months of detention in Russia. Photo: twitter.com/brittneygriner


After almost 10 months of being detained, WNBA superstar Brittney Griner was finally released from Russian custody and arrived in the United States on Thursday, Dec. 8, after a successful prisoner swap between Washington and Moscow. The United States government exchanged convicted arms dealer Victor Bout for Griner.

The successful swap was a culmination of months of talks between the United States and Russia, which were often filled with tension, with both countries even trading barbs.

U.S. diplomatic officials accused Russia of wrongfully detaining Griner, refusing to approach the negotiation table in good faith and holding Americans — not just Griner — in poor prison conditions. For their part, Russian authorities said Griner had knowingly broken their laws by bringing hashish oil in her baggage, that the United States was trying to circumvent Russia’s justice system by calling for her release ahead of a trial and then conducting negotiations through the press, in what Moscow called “megaphone diplomacy.”

According to a joint statement by both the Unites States and Russia, the swap was brokered by Saudi Arabia’s crown prince and the president of the United Arab Emirates.

On the afternoon of Thursday, an aircraft carrying Griner landed at a UAE air base, an hour after the plane carrying Bout arrived, according to a source familiar with the exchange. With both planes on either side of the tarmac, Bout crossed to the Russian plane; afterward, Griner walked to the U.S. aircraft.

”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,” U.S. President Joe Biden told the press assembled at the White House on Thursday. “This is a day we’ve worked toward for a long time.”

Cherelle Griner, Brittney Griner’s wife, who was in the White House during Biden’s announcement, said that she was overwhelmed with emotion.

“The most important emotion that I have right now is just sincere gratitude for President Biden and his entire administration.”

The elephant in the room, however, despite Griner’s release, is the failure of the U.S. government to find a way to get former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan home. Whelan was imprisoned in Russia in 2020, after being found guilty of espionage. He was sentenced to 16 years.

The Russian prisoner swapped for Griner, Victor Bout, is one of the most notorious arms traffickers in the world and has often been referred to as the “Merchant of Death.” His life reportedly inspired the Hollywood movie “Lord of War,” starring Nicolas Cage. Bout was one of the world’s most wanted men before his 2008 arrest in Thailand in a U.S. sting operation.

Bout has been accused of running an arms-trafficking network, delivering weapons to every continent, including Africa, Europe, and Asia. A report from the U.S. Treasury said he had a reputation in the arms-smuggling world for being able to deliver weapons anywhere, anytime. U.S. prosecutors have called Bout one of “the world’s most successful and sophisticated arms traffickers.”

In 2012, Bout was sentenced to 25 years in prison after a jury in a Manhattan federal court convicted him of four criminal charges, including a conspiracy to kill Americans and provide arms support to terrorists.

“The exchange of Bout for Griner can be called a New Year’s gift,” Russian high commissioner for human rights Tatiana Moskalkova told Russian state newswire TASS. “Joy overwhelms everyone who followed his fate.”

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