The American WNBA player Brittney Griner has been released from the Russian prison she has been held in since February after the Biden administration negotiated a prisoner swap. On Thursday, Griner was exchanged for a notorious Russian arms dealer named Viktor Bout, known as the ‘Merchant of Death,’ who has been held in an American prison for 12 years.
Back in February, Griner was arrested at a Russian airport for the possession of cannabis oil and has since been held in prison by the Russian Federation. In July, the basketball player pled guilty to the charges that had been placed against her. In August, she was convicted and sent to prison with a nine-year sentence.
In a statement from the White House on Thursday morning, Joe Biden announced the confirmation of Griner’s release. “She is safe, she is on a plane, she is on her way home,” said Biden. “Brittney will soon be back in the arms of her loved ones and she should have been there all along.”
Tune in as I deliver an important announcement. https://t.co/2BVdSsmIFA
— President Biden (@POTUS) December 8, 2022
Bout, a former Soviet Army lieutenant colonel and one of the world’s most prolific arms dealers, was serving a 25-year sentence on charges of conspiring to sell tens of millions of dollars in weapons that were expected to be used against the American people.
Initially, the Biden administration had suggested an exchange with Russia for both Griner and Paul Whelan, a US corporate security executive and former Marine, who has been held in a Russian prison since December 2018 on espionage charges that the US government has claimed are illegitimate.
However, Whelan remains jailed in Russia as Griner is returned home to the United States.
This is the second time that the former Michigan resident has been overlooked for release by the Biden administration. In April 2022, former US Marine Trevor Reed was released in a prisoner swap after spending three years in a Russian prison for allegedly endangering the “life and health” of Russian police officers during an altercation. Both Reed and his family denied the validity of these accusations.
After this swap, Whelan publically wondered why he was left out of this deal.
“Why was I left behind?” asked Whelan. “While I am pleased Trevor is home with his family, I have been held on a fictitious charge of espionage for 40 months.”
“The world knows this charge was fabricated. Why hasn’t more been done to secure my release?” he asked.
Whelan and his family are forced to suffer through the same situation again as Griner is returned home after less than a year in prison, and the former Marine remains in Russian custody.