According to President Joe Biden’s announcement on Thursday that Brittney Griner had been freed, the United States had sent the arms dealer Viktor Bout to Russia in exchange.
The president remarked from the White House, “Moments ago, standing with her wife, Cherelle, in the Oval Office, I spoke with Brittney Griner. After being wrongfully jailed in Russia for months and held in appalling conditions, she is safe, on a plane, and traveling home.
Cherelle Griner and Vice President Kamala Harris, who supported Biden throughout the announcement, were also there for his Oval Office conversation.
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According to a U.S. official, Griner and Bout passed each other on the tarmac as they made their way to switch planes at the Abu Dhabi airport.
Griner’s grueling 10-month ordeal comes to an end with the prisoner swap, which was carried out at the Abu Dhabi airport. Russian officials detained Griner in February for having vape cartridges containing hash oil. She was recently sent to a correctional camp 300 miles outside of Moscow after being given a nine-year sentence in August.
Griner is en route to a San Antonio hospital for a routine examination.
The news is disappointing for the family of Paul Whelan; a former U.S. Marine detained in Russia since 2018 on spurious espionage accusations. The administration informed his family that Whelan was not included in the agreement on Wednesday.
Paul’s brother David Whelan called the information “a disappointment for us” in a statement. A calamity for Paul as well. But he said that “rather than waiting for a deal that wouldn’t materialize, the Biden administration took the proper choice to bring Ms. Griner home and make the deal feasible.”
— Joseph Spector (@JoeSpectorNY) December 8, 2022
Biden stated, “This was not a choice of which American to bring home. Later, he continued, “Unfortunately, Russia is treating Paul’s case differently than Brittany’s for unjustified reasons. And although we haven’t been able to secure Paul’s release yet, we won’t give up. Never give up; we promise.
Biden pledged that his government would keep working to secure Whelan’s release. However, former U.S. officials worry that Whelan will remain in Russia.
“The Whelan situation is troubling, and although there will be catharsis felt in the U.S. for Griner, families of the many remaining not-so-famous detainees will want more action,” said Hugh Dugan, the acting special representative of the United States for hostage affairs under the Trump administration.
“The Bout deal is the public description; what else might have been discussed needs to be considered, especially because the offer has not been accepted since July. I wonder if we could have given even more, such as forcing Whelan to make a “Sophie’s choice” while being left alone.
The Russian government insisted that there could only be a one-for-one trade, despite the Biden administration’s months-long efforts to swap Griner and Whelan for Bout. In compensation for Whelan, Moscow demanded that the U.S. release a Russian spy, but the U.S. has long maintained that it does not hold such a person in prison. Another person who Germany was holding was then requested by the Russians, according to a U.S. official.
Blinken responded to a question on the Russian position on Sunday by saying on CBS’ “Face the Nation” that “the other side gets a vote in this. It goes beyond what we want. That is what they are ready to do.
An American official stated that the Biden administration wanted to arrange Griner’s release by Christmas. In the next 24 hours, Griner would arrive in the United States.
Before that, Biden expressed a willingness to speak with Putin about a prisoner exchange directly, but the leader of the Kremlin never consented to do so.
In a news conference last month, Biden expressed his optimism that Russia would be more eager to reach an agreement following the midterm elections. “We’ve had several conversations so far, and I’m confident that now that our election is finished, there’s a willingness to deal more precisely with us,” he stated on November 9.
Since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, Griner is the second American hostage to have been released and returned to the United States. Former Marine Trevor Reed was freed in April after serving nearly a year in prison.
After Biden finished speaking, Cherelle Griner stated that she and Brittney would fight for all Americans illegally detained abroad, including Whelan.
As you are all aware, there are a lot of other families that aren’t entire. “Today, my family is whole,” Cherelle Griner stated. B.G. and I will continue to be dedicated to bringing every American home, especially Paul, whose family is on our minds right now.
Who Is Brittney Griner?
Brittney Yevette Griner, a professional basketball player for the Phoenix Mercury of the Women’s National Basketball Association, was born on October 18, 1990. In Waco, Texas, she participated in collegiate basketball for the Baylor Lady Bears.
She is the only basketball player in the NCAA to have 500 shot blocks in addition to her 2,000 points. The three-time All-American received the A.P. Player of the Year and Most Outstanding Final Four Player awards in 2012. Griner is one of only 11 women to have won an Olympic gold medal, an NCAA title, a FIBA World Cup gold medal, and a WNBA title.