Brittney Griner released by Russia in 1-for-1 prisoner swap for arms dealer Viktor Bout

washingtonbritney greenerThe WNBA star, who spent months in a Russian prison on drug charges, was released Thursday in a one-on-one International arms dealers exchange prisoners boutending an ordeal that sparked intense high-level negotiations between the United States and the Kremlin to secure her freedom.

‘She’s safe. She’s on the plane,’ says President Biden at the white house say, to announce the exchange. “She is on her way home. Unjustly detained in Russia for months under intolerable circumstances, Britney will soon be back in the arms of her loved ones, where she should have always been .It’s one we’ve worked for a long time. We never stopped pushing for her release.”

CBS News was first to report the exchange took place in the United Arab Emirates, citing a U.S. official.The exchange deal negotiated with Moscow in recent weeks has received final approval from the Russian Federation Mr. Biden is here Last week, according to a source familiar with the deal.

Five former U.S. officials told CBS News that the agreement has reached last Thursday.

The president said he spoke with Griner by phone from the Oval Office, and he was also on the phone with Griner’s wife, Cherrell, Vice President Kamala Harris and Secretary of State Anthony Blinken. Griner is expected to undergo a medical evaluation soon, as is standard procedure for released U.S. prisoners.

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Mr Biden said he was “pleased to be able to say that Britney is in good spirits” and that she was looking forward to returning home. The president dismissed “an open trial in Russia” that landed her in jail, saying “she didn’t ask for special treatment”.

To secure Griner’s release, the president ordered Bout’s release and his return to Russia. Biden signed a commutation order that shortened Bout’s 25-year federal prison sentence.

Notably, the Griner-for-Bout swap leaves retired US Marines Paul Whelan imprisoned in Russia. Whelan has been in Russian custody for nearly four years.he convicted of espionage America calls it false.

“We haven’t forgotten Paul Whelan,” Mr Biden said on Thursday, adding that “we will never give up” securing his release. U.S. officials told reporters that it became clear in talks with the Russians that the prospect of releasing Griner and Whelan in exchange for Bout was not a viable prospect, with some saying the U.S. had “choosed between bringing back a particular American — Brittney Griner—or bring home nothing.”

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Whelan told CNN by phone Thursday that he was glad Griner was released, but said he was “very disappointed that more was not done to secure my release, especially with the fourth anniversary of my arrest approaching.” occasion.”

WNBA Phoenix Mercury star center Greiner, 32, was detained at a Russian airport in February and later pleaded guilty to charges after a cartridge of marijuana-derived oil was found in his luggage. Griner said she didn’t want to take the cartridges with her when she traveled to the country during the WNBA offseason to play in the Russian basketball league.

After five months of diplomatic stagnation and various permutations of potential swap arrangements — including a previously unreported U.S. proposal last summer to return two prisoners to Russia for two Americans — the sources said, One-to-one exchanges are in the last two weeks.

Whelan, who works as a security contractor for a company, was in Moscow attending a friend’s wedding in December 2018 when he was detained in a hotel. Russian authorities later sentenced him to 16 years in prison for espionage – charges the US and Whelan deny. This month marks the fourth anniversary of Whelan’s detention in Russia.

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Bout, who was most recently held at a federal prison in Marion, Illinois, was arrested by the Thai Drug Enforcement Agency following a 2008 sting operation. He was convicted of conspiracy to kill an American and began serving a 25-year sentence a decade ago.

Griner’s arrest coincides with the start of February Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, and all U.S. dealings with the Kremlin are complicated by the conflict. The U.S. says both Griner and Whelan have been “mistakenly detained,” and officials suspect Russia has been using U.S. prisoners as leverage.

Greener’s return to Bout marks the Biden administration’s second prisoner swap with Russia. In April, the U.S. traded Russian smuggler Konstantin Yaroshenko, who was convicted of conspiring to import cocaine, trevor reeda former U.S. Marine who was imprisoned in Russia for nearly three years.

CBS News learned last Thursday that a Griner-for-Bout deal was imminent, but agreed to a White House request to suspend reporting because officials expressed serious concerns about the fragility of the then-nascent deal.

Biden administration officials have warned that releasing details of the swap ahead of time would almost certainly lead to Russia’s withdrawal from the agreement and could jeopardize Greiner’s well-being.

Nancy Cordes, Ed O’Keefe, Sara Cook, Camilla Schick, Tucker Reals, Haley Ott and Melissa Quinn contributed to this report.


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