Nearly 10 months after being imprisoned in Russia, where she became the most well-known American in prison abroad and ignited a political uproar, Brittney Griner arrived back in the United States early on Friday.
She was an openly homosexual Black woman, having a prominent position in women’s basketball, and being imprisoned in a nation where the government has been unfriendly to the LBGTQ community raised concerns for Griner and generated a lot of media attention for the case.
After her incarceration, Russia invaded Ukraine, further complicating matters.
President Joe Biden’s first objective was accomplished with the agreement revealed on Thursday that saw Griner traded for renowned arms dealer Viktor Bout.
Another American imprisoned for almost four years, Paul Whelan, is not part of the prisoner swap.
Given the recent resolution of Griner’s criminal case involving drug charges and her subsequent transfer to a penal colony, as well as the increased urgency that his administration faced getting Griner home, Biden’s approval of Bout’s release, the Russian felon known as “the Merchant of Death,” was significant.
Griner, a two-time Olympic gold winner and top basketball player for the Phoenix Mercury, was spotted exiting a plane after it touched down in Texas on Friday.
“So glad to see Brittney back in the United States. Welcoming back, BG! “the special presidential envoy for hostage situations Roger Carstens tweeted.
The WNBA player, who also played professional basketball in Russia, was detained in February at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport after claims by Russian police that she had cannabis oil-filled vape cartridges.
According to the U.S. State Department, Griner was “wrongfully imprisoned,” a claim that Russia has categorically denied.
Griner entered a guilty plea in July, but a trial was still pending because admitting guilt does not automatically end a case in Russia.
She received a nine-year sentence.
She admitted having cannabis oil canisters in court but said she did not want to commit a crime and had mistakenly packed them.
Her defense team provided formal confirmation that she had received a cannabis prescription for pain relief.
In a statement distributed by Russian news organizations, the Russian Foreign Ministry acknowledged the swap on Thursday, stating that it occurred in Abu Dhabi and Bout had been flown home.
Griner and Biden chatted on the phone.
American officials said she would be provided with psychotherapy and specialist medical care.
The United States liberated Bout, a former lieutenant colonel in the Soviet Army who the Justice Department previously referred to as one of the most active arms dealers in the world.
He was detained in Thailand in 2008 and returned to the United States in 2010.
Bout was incarcerated for 25 years after being found guilty of conspiring to sell weapons worth tens of millions of dollars that American officials claimed would be used against citizens of the United States.
Brittney Griner says she’s happy to be released in footage from plane: pic.twitter.com/UXvFDRUXnX
— philip lewis (@Phil_Lewis_) December 8, 2022