President Joseph announced this morning that W.N.B.A. star Brittney Griner, “B.G.,” has been freed from a Russian prison. In a press release, the Russian Foreign Ministry confirmed that a one-to-one swap for Griner was made at the Abu Dhabi airport for convicted Russian arms trader Viktor Bout. According to U.S. officials, Biden approved the release of Bout, commuting his 25-year prison sentence.
The Russian government refused to include ex-U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, imprisoned in Russia on false espionage charges. Speaking about Whelan, President Biden acknowledged that while the U.S. did not secure his release, “We are not giving up. We will never give up.” It became clear in recent weeks that “the choice was bringing Brittney Griner home or bringing no one home right now, said a senior administration official.”
Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, and Cherelle Griner, the wife of Brittney, stood together in the Roosevelt Room of the White House as the announcement was made. “She’s safe. She’s on a plane. She’s on her way home after months of being unjustly detained in Russia, held under intolerable circumstances.”
Biden said he spoke briefly with Griner before making the announcement. He said Brittany was in “good spirits but was experiencing trauma and would need time to heal.” The President said he expects Griner to land on U.S. soil within 24 hours.
Cherelle Griner, the wife of Brittany, spoke of her emotions and relief at Brittany’s release. “The most important emotion I have right now is sincere gratitude for President Biden and his entire administration,” Cherelle said. “I’m going to smile right now.”
Griner was held for 294 months based on accusations of carrying vape cartridges with hashish oil in her luggage. She was returning to play for the Russian professional basketball team, the U.M.M.C. Ekaterinburg, during the W.N.B.A. off-season. Griner is a member of the Phoenix Mercury.
In October, Cherelle Griner said she had spoken to her wife twice by phone since her detention. She said Brittany was afraid of being “left and forgotten.” “B.G. and I will remain committed to getting every American home, including Paul,” Cherelle Griner said.
W.N.B.A. and N.B.A. players led social media campaigns and spoke of Brittany during press conferences, demanding her immediate release and safe return to the U.S.
While the U.S. hoped to bring Griner and Whelan home, Biden expressed sentiments shared by many, “Brittney will soon be back in the arms of her loved ones, and she should have been there all along.”
The Sentinel will update this story as soon as additional information is available.