Brittney Griner, the American basketball player detained for months in Russia, was freed in a prisoner exchange with arms dealer Viktor Bout.
The news was reported by CBS citing an administration official.
The release took place following an agreement between the United States and Russia for an exchange of prisoners, including, in fact, the American basketball star Griner and the Russian international arms dealer, Viktor Bout.
The prisoner exchange agreement negotiated with Moscow in recent weeks, according to “CBS” sources, received final approval from US President Joe Biden just in the last week. The exchange took place today at the airport of Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates, a Gulf country which on other occasions has acted as a platform for the exchange of prisoners between Russia and Ukraine.
The same American president Joe Biden announced via Twitter that he had spoken to the champion american basketball on the phone: “I spoke to Brittney Griner. She’s safe, she’s on a plane, she’s on her way home,” she wrote in her post.
US authorities had expressed determination to bring home both Griner and Paul Whelan, a Michigan executive who has been incarcerated in Russia since December 2018 on espionage charges that both his family and the US government have said are unfounded. Biden says the US “hasn’t forgotten Paul Whelan,” will continue to ‘never give up’ trying to secure his release from Russia.
By releasing Bout, the United States freed a former Soviet Army lieutenant colonel whom the Justice Department has described as one of the world’s most prolific arms dealers. His exploits inspired a Hollywood film, ‘The Notorious Mr. Bout’. The man was serving a 25-year sentence on charges of conspiring to sell tens of millions of dollars in weapons that US officials said would be used against Americans.
Griner, 32, was transferred to a penal colony in Russia in November to serve a nine-year prison sentence for “drug trafficking”. The woman had been arrested in February at a Moscow airport with a vaper and a liquid containing cannabis.
Upon her return to the United States following her detention in Russia, the champion will undergo a “three-stage process”.
Waiting for the other American prisoner in Russia
A US official spoke “at length” with former Marine Paul Whelan, detained in Russia: a senior White House official reported it in a briefing.
“As we celebrate Brittney’s release, Paul Whelan and his family continue to suffer needlessly. Despite our relentless efforts, the Russian government is still unwilling to end her unjust detention.” This is what US Secretary of State Antony Blinken underlines in a note, who then says: “I wish Paul had returned home today on the same plane as Brittney. Nevertheless, we will not stop working to bring Paul and all other US citizens back held hostage or wrongfully detained abroad at home by their loved ones, where they belong.”
The disappointment of Whelan’s family
Paul Whelan’s family expresses joy at the release of Brittney Griner, but does not hide that they are “devastated” by the failure to return home also of Paul, detained in Russia where he was sentenced to 16 years for espionage. “I can even imagine how Paul will feel when he hears about this. Paul worked so hard to survive almost four years of this injustice already. His hopes were raised when he learned that the US government was taking concrete steps towards his release He wondered where he was going to live when he returned. Now what? How will he continue to survive, day after day, when you know your government has twice failed to free you from a foreign prison?” wrote David Whelan Paul’s brother.