Russia has exchanged Brittney Griner (US basketball star) for Viktor Bout, an infamous arms dealer. Viktor Bout was held for 12 year in a US prison.
President Joe Biden assured Griner that he was safe and returning home on a plane from the United Arab Emirates.
At the White House, he said that Brittney was in good spirits and needed time to recover.
Griner was last month taken into custody at a Moscow airport for possessing cannabis oil.
In July 2012, the Biden administration proposed prisoner exchanges. Moscow had long wanted Bout’s release.
Russia’s foreign minister confirmed the swap, stating that it occurred at Abu Dhabi Airport. The statement said “The Russian citizen was returned to his homeland”, although it wasn’t clear whether he had ever arrived on Russian soil.
Russian news agencies claimed that he was still being flown from Moscow to Vnukovo Airport.
Griner’s spouse Cherelle, speaking in the Oval Office, praised the Biden administration for securing Griner’s release. She said that she was “just standing here overwhelmed with emotion.”
President Biden signed the order to release Bout, commuting his 25 year sentence, as part of the prisoner trade.
Viktor Bout sold arms and became a target for warlords, rogue governments, and was one of the most wanted men on the planet.
His exploits in gun-running after the collapse of the Soviet Union earned him the title of “merchant of death”, and he was the inspiration for the Hollywood film Lord of War (2006).
An elaborate US sting brought to an abrupt halt his secretive career in 2008 when he was detained at a Bangkok hotel. To the fury of the Russian government
He was arrested two years later. Since then, he has been held in American prison for conspiring with terrorists to kill Americans.
Bout’s life could not be more different to that of his counterpart in the prisoner exchange.
Brittney Griner, 31 is one the most prominent American sportswomen.
She is a key centre for Phoenix Mercury in WNBA’s US basketball season. Her sole reason for traveling to Moscow was to play in Russia during off-season in the US. She admitted to her Russian trial that she made an “honest error” in bringing cannabis oil with her.
In a tweet, President Biden included a photo of Griner’s wife Cherelle in the Oval Office.
“Moments back, Brittney Griner was my contact. She is safe. She is flying on a plane. He wrote, “She is on her return.”
Griner was released during the summer. However, the US demanded that ex-marine Paul Whelan be released when negotiations began. Whelan, who was accused by Russia spying on Griner, was not released as part of the prisoner trade.
Biden, speaking at the Oval Office said that Russia was treating Biden’s case differently than Griner’s due to completely illegitimate reasons. He said, “While it has not been possible to secure Paul’s release, we are not giving up. We will not give in.”
David Whelan, Whelan’s brother, praised Griner’s release, and claimed that US officials had warned his family beforehand that Paul Whelan would not be part of the exchange.
In a statement, he stated that the US government needed to be more assertive. “If Russia is going to take innocent Americans, the US should respond faster and more quickly.”
Biden advised Americans to be cautious when travelling abroad and warned of the danger of being wrongfully held by a foreign government.