Russia has freed WNBA star Brittney Griner on Thursday in a prisoner exchange, as the U.S. released Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.
The swap, at a time of heightened tensions over Ukraine, achieved a top goal for President Joe Biden but carried a heavy price.
“She’s safe, she’s on a plane, she’s on her way home,” Biden said from the White House, where he was accompanied by Griner’s wife, Cherelle, and administration officials.
According to the AP, the deal, the second such exchange in eight months with Russia, procured the release of the most prominent American detained abroad.
Griner is a two-time Olympic gold medalist whose monthslong imprisonment on drug charges brought unprecedented attention to the population of wrongful detainees.
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Biden’s authorization to release a Russian felon once nicknamed “the Merchant of Death” underscored the escalating pressure that his administration faced to get Griner home, particularly after the recent resolution of her criminal case and her subsequent transfer to a penal colony.
The Russian Foreign Ministry also confirmed the swap, saying in a statement carried by Russian news agencies that the exchange took place in Abu-Dhabi and that Bout has been flown home, according to the AP.
Viktor Bout is an entrepreneur and former Soviet military translator, he used his multiple companies to smuggle weapons since the collapse of the Soviet Union from Eastern Europe to Africa and the Middle East during the 1990s and early 2000s.
The negotiations failed to free Paul Whelan, who has been jailed for nearly four years.