President Biden says WNBA star Brittney Griner is free.
Biden said the day was one “we worked toward for a long time”
“Safe. She’s flying. She’s returning home after months of unfair detention in Russia “Roosevelt Room, Biden remarked.
Biden called Griner before making the announcement. She’s in excellent spirits but experiencing “trauma” and needs time to heal, he said.
Biden: “Brittney will soon be reunited with her family, where she should have been all along.”
Russia’s Foreign Ministry acknowledged Thursday that Griner was swapped for convicted arms dealer Viktor Bout.
“After intense negotiations, we agreed to swap Bout for Griner,” the foreign ministry said. “The Russian is home.”
The U.S. has traditionally opposed prisoner swaps because they could lead to more Americans being imprisoned abroad. Biden official: The Bout exchange shouldn’t be seen as a new standard practise, but there are situations when there are no alternatives.
The official said the government felt a “moral obligation” to bring hostages and detainees home.
“How is it acceptable for Brittney Griner to be put through bogus trials and compelled to spend time in a Russian jail colony? That’s unacceptable, “Official:
The discussion did not involve former Marine Paul Whelan, who is in Russia on spurious espionage allegations.
Biden: “We are not giving up on Paul’s release.” We won’t quit.
Senior administration officials told reporters on a conference call that Griner’s release was agreed to after months of talks and proposals to also free Whelan.
Russians wouldn’t release Whelan.
“We had no option which American to bring home,” an official said. “It was Brittney Griner or no Americans at all.”
Cherelle Griner was overcome with emotion and thanked Biden, Harris, and other administration members for winning her wife’s release. WNBA, Griner’s agency, and others were thanked.
“BG and I will keep working to get Paul home,” she stated.
Biden and his administration were under pressure to free Griner. In July, she wrote him, “I’m frightened I’ll be here forever.” Biden anticipated Putin would be more open to consider a prisoner exchange after the midterms.
Griner is a seven-time WNBA All-Star, two-time Olympic gold winner, and Nike’s first openly gay athlete endorsee. During the WNBA offseason, she played for UMMC Ekaterinburg.
A Russian court sentenced her to nine years in prison in August for bringing less than a gramme of hash oil into the country in February to play basketball. Last month, she began serving her term in Mordovia, 300 kilometres southeast of Moscow.
Griner admitted packing two vape cartridges in a rush, but presented paperwork showing the hash oil was properly authorised for pain management.
The U.S. authorities called Griner “wrongfully detained” and wanted to trade him for Whelan. The White House made a “substantial offer” for Griner and Whelan over the summer.
A U.S. official told Whelan’s sister and Whelan himself about Griner on Wednesday. Official: Biden plans to speak with Whelan’s family.
Biden’s staff keeps working for his release.
Biden: “Russia’s treatment of Paul’s case is illegitimate.”
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