U.S. basketball star Griner released in prisoner swap for convicted Russian arms dealer
The two-time Olympic basketball champion was convicted in Russia of the possessing a small amount of cannabis.
WNBA star Brittney Griner was released Thursday from Russian prison in a prisoner exchange reportedly for convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.
News reports about the release broke at about 8 a.m. ET, and President Joe Biden confirmed the matter about 30 minutes later in a White House announcement.
"She's lost months of her life," Biden said about Griner who was arrested February at a Russian airport for trying to bring a vape cartridge with hash oil into the country.
"She's lost months of her life," Biden said about Griner, a U.S. olympian who plays pro basketball in Russia for extra money.
The reported exchange brought an immediate reaction about why ex-Marine Paul Whelan, who's been detained in Russia for four years was not included in the swap.
"We've not forgotten about Paul," Biden said.
The United States offered a deal to Russia over the summer to repatriate Griner and Whelan, who is serving a hard labor sentence after being arrested in 2018 and convicted of espionage.
"This was not a choice about which American to bring home," said Biden, who was joined at the White House presser by Griner's wife, Cherelle Griner, and Vice President Kamala Harris. The president in his address thanked the United Arab Emirates for helping facilitate Griner's return home.
"Sadly, for totally illegitimate reasons, Russia is treating Paul's case different than Britney's, and while we have not yet succeeded in securing Paul's release, we are not giving up," Biden also said.
Griner pleaded guilty in July to the charges. She was sentenced to nine years in prison and sent to a forced-labor camp.
Biden did not mention the reported prisoner swap during his address, though it has been confirmed by Russian officials.
Bout, a former Soviet Army lieutenant colonel, was convicted in 2011 of conspiring to kill Americans and provide material support to terrorists, including the Colombian FARC gureilla army.
Then-Attorney General Eric Holder called Bout "one of the world’s most prolific arms dealers" and said his "arms trafficking activity and support of armed conflicts have been a source of concern around the globe for decades." Bout has also be referred to as the "merchant of death."