WNBA star Brittney Griner was freed from a Russian prison camp on Thursday, following months of negotiations by the Biden administration.
The White House said Griner was swapped for notorious Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, who served 11 years of a 25-year sentence in the U.S. for selling arms to Colombian rebels and to warring factions in conflicts around the world.
“She’s safe, she’s on a plane, she’s on her way home,” President Joe Biden said from the White House as he stood next to Vice President Kamala Harris, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Griner’s wife, Cherelle Griner.
[Watch the video below of Griner being interviewed after her release]
Biden added that Griner was in “good spirits,” and he urged Americans to take precautions before traveling outside the U.S.
“We also want to prevent any more American families from suffering this pain of separation,” he said. “I strongly urge all Americans to take precautions, including reviewing the state department’s travel advisories, before they travel overseas.”
Tune in as I deliver an important announcement. https://t.co/2BVdSsmIFA
— President Biden (@POTUS) December 8, 2022
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According to the Biden administration, Bout, known as the “Merchant of Death,” went back to Russia and Griner is on her way to San Antonio, where she will undergo a medical examination.
However, the administration failed to win freedom for Paul Whelan, a former Marine who has been jailed for nearly four years in Russia following a conviction on espionage charges.
Whelan, who has denied being a spy, spoke with CNN Thursday and said he’s “greatly disappointed” the Biden administration hasn’t done more to secure his release.
“I was arrested for a crime that never occurred,” he said during a phone call from the Russian penal colony where he is being held. “I don’t understand why I’m still sitting here.”
Griner, 32, was arrested at Moscow Airport on Feb. 17, after Russian officials said vape cartridges with hashish oil were found inside her luggage. She had traveled to Russia to play in the off-season and make extra money.
In May, the U.S. government said she had been “wrongfully detained” by Russian authorities. Activists said she was being used as a political pawn by Russia as it faces global condemnation for its invasion of Ukraine.
The two-time Olympic gold medalist pleaded guilty in July.
She was convicted in August and sentenced to 9 years in a brutal prison camp. Griner appealed the sentence in October, but the appeal was rejected.
Video released by Russia on Thursday showed her boarding a private plane and smiling while being interviewed about going home.