Brittney Griner Freed by Russia, but at a 'Heavy Price'

CBS News reports she was exchanged for arms dealer Viktor Bout
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 8, 2022 7:25 AM CST
Brittney Griner Freed by Russia in 1-for-1 Prisoner Swap
WNBA star and two-time Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner speaks to her lawyers standing in a cage at a court room prior to a hearing, in Khimki just outside Moscow, Russia, on July 26, 2022.   (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, Pool, File)

Brittney Griner has been freed in a one-for-one prisoner swap for international arms dealer Viktor Bout, CBS News reports by way of a US official. The network reports the prisoner exchange happened Thursday in the United Arab Emirates, the culmination of a deal reportedly reached a week ago and given the go-ahead by President Biden. CNN reports Russia state media described the exchange as being "completed successfully at Abu Dhabi Airport." At 8:14am President Biden tweeted, "Moments ago I spoke to Brittney Griner. She is safe. She is on a plane. She is on her way home." Biden spoke less than 30 minutes later, referencing the "painstaking and intense negotiations" that took place but describing Griner as "in good spirits" after "losing months of her life enduring needless trauma."

The AP calls it a "dramatic high-level prisoner exchange ... [that] carried a heavy price—and left behind an American jailed for nearly four years in Russia." That "heavy price" is a reference to the release of the man known as the "Merchant of Death"; Bout had been described by the DOJ as one of the world's most prolific arms dealers. He had been serving a 25-year prison sentence in the US on charges of conspiring to kill Americans. The American left out of the deal is Paul Whelan, a Michigan corporate security executive who has been imprisoned in Russia for four years on espionage charges that the US government says are without merit.

Biden addressed the situation with Whelan, saying "we have not forgotten about him." Biden said "this was not a choice about which American to bring home. Russia has treated Paul's case differently than it treated Brittney's." He says the US won't give up on getting Whelan home. In reference to Whelan, a senior administration official tells CNN this was "the only deal we could make right now." (More Brittney Griner stories.)

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