Former WNBA star Brittney Griner was reportedly released by Russia in a prisoner swap for the notorious Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, according to a U.S. official.
In February, Griner, a two-time Olympic basketball champion, was arrested by Russia and pleaded guilty to possession of cannabis vape cartridges at an airport near Moscow.
Possessing seven grams or more carries criminal penalties in Russia. Those can include up to two years of “corrective labor.” Yet Griner was charged with smuggling cannabis into Russia, which holds a prison sentence of five to 10 years. Griner was sentenced to nine years.
In order to obtain Griner’s release, President Joe Biden authorized Bout to be released from prison and returned him to Russia. Bout will escape 25 years of federal prison time. Bout has served just half the time in prison he received in 2011.
Since Thursday the prisoner swap had reportedly been negotiated.
Moments ago I spoke to Brittney Griner.
She is safe.
She is on a plane.
She is on her way home. pic.twitter.com/FmHgfzrcDT
— President Biden (@POTUS) December 8, 2022
Rumored as a potential prisoner worth exchanging in August, critics of the deal said Bout should remain behind bars because he is one of the most dangerous criminals in the world: Breitbart News reported on Bout’s history:
Nicknamed the “’of Death,’ Bout is a flamboyant arms dealer in his mid-50s with Russian military training. He became a billionaire by raiding the armories of the collapsing Soviet Union in the early 90s and using old Soviet cargo planes to transport his black-market weapons to conflict zones around the world.
The prisoner swap notably left behind Paul Whelan, an American and former Marine jailed in Russia for nearly two years under “espionage” charges in 2018. Whelan’s total sentence is 16 years.
Critics have slammed the Biden administration for allowing an American veteran to remain imprisoned in Russia while a famous basketball star was freed in the prisoner swap.
When CBS News asked Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Sunday if U.S. negotiators were “actively engaged” in swapping for both Whelan and Griner, Blinken brushed off the possibility but stated he was still trying to bring Griner home.
“The other side gets a vote in this. It’s not just what we want. It’s what they’re prepared to do,” Blinken said. “One way or another, one day or another, we’re going to see that through,” he added about Whelan.