Russia has freed WNBA star Brittney Griner in a high-profile prisoner exchange, as the U.S. released notorious Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.
Russia had found US basketball champion Brittney Griner guilty of drug smuggling.
In the prisoner swap which had been on the table, however, the U.S. failed to win freedom for another American, Paul Whelan, who has been jailed for nearly four years. The deal to secure Griner, brokered amid tensions over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, achieved a top policy goal for President Joe Biden.
“She’s safe, she’s on a plane, she’s on her way home,” Biden said from the White House, where he was accompanied by Griner’s wife, Cherelle, and administration officials.
In reaction to the announcement that the Biden Administration has reached a deal with Russia to free imprisoned WNBA Star Brittney Griner, Victoria Kirby York, director of public policy and programs at the National Black Justice Coalition, a leading Black LGBTQ+/same-gender loving civil rights organization, issued the following statement:
“Welcome home Brittney!
“We are deeply grateful to the Biden Administration’s non-stop effort to negotiate Griner’s safe return to the United States. From the beginning, President Biden and the White House made it clear that they would do everything within their power to return Brittney home to her country and her family – and by the holidays. They have lived up to that promise.
“It has been an honor to collaborate with the White House, the U.S. State Department, and other advocacy organizations since early March to ensure Brittney’s well being, safety, and return home.
“Make no mistake, Griner was detained in Russia on trumped up charges and leveraged as a political prisoner because of her identity as an American. The fact that Griner was both Black and LGBTQ+ made her even more of a target – and the treatment that she faced in the Russian Court system even more horrific. The Biden Administration was right to recognize that bringing Griner home was a top priority – and we thank them for that.
“Brittney is an icon not only to the Black LGBTQ+/SGL community but to people around the world. Now, she has also become a symbol of hope for the many other people who remain wrongfully detained abroad and the families who remain broken until their loved ones return home.
Russia and the United States had repeatedly been on the verge of agreement on a prisoner exchange, and a senior Russian diplomat had hinted it would be possible before 2022 ended.
The Biden administration had been trying for months to negotiate the release of Griner and Michigan corporate security executive Whelan.
The Moscow court had ruled that Griner was guilty of drugs possession and smuggling after she pleaded guilty to bringing cannabis-infused vape cartridges to Russia.
Griner, 31, had said that carrying the vape cartridges into the country had been an “honest mistake.”