Brittney Griner was so thrilled to leave Russia that she couldn’t stop talking, according to Ambassador Roger Carstens, U.S. special presidential envoy for hostage affairs.
“I have been in prison for 10 months now, listening to Russian. I want to talk,” Griner said, Carstens shared Sunday on CNN’s State of the Union.
The WNBA star was released from a Russian prison camp and swapped for convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout in the United Arab Emirates on Dec. 8. After boarding a U.S. government plane, Carstens said Griner told him she wanted to meet everyone on the aircraft.
“And she moved right past me and went to every member on that crew, looked them in the eyes, shook their hands and asked about them, got their names, making a personal connection with them,” Carstens explained. “It was really amazing.”
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Carstens said Griner spent about 12 hours of the 18-hour flight chatting.
“We talked about everything under the sun,” he recalled. “I was left with the impression this is an intelligent, passionate, compassionate, humble, interesting person, a patriotic person. But above all, authentic. I hate the fact that I had to meet her in this manner, but I actually felt blessed having had a chance to get to know her.”
The diplomat would not give specifics on what Griner said, except that she discussed spending time in a Russian penal colony and months in prison.
“I’d hate to steal her thunder because it’s her story to tell, but she spoke at length about what it was like to undergo that ten month ordeal,” Carstens told CNN host Dana Bash.
Once Griner touched down, she was taken to Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland in Texas, and reunited with her wife, Cherelle Griner.
The two-time Olympic champion is currently undergoing a medical and mental evaluation before being reintegrated into society — which is standard after a hostage is released.
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Griner’s release was one of the highest-profile U.S. prisoner swaps since the Cold War, although the deal meant leaving behind Paul Whelan, a corporate security executive and former U.S. Marine, jailed in Russia after being accused of spying — which he denied.
President Joe Biden personally approved Thursday’s prisoner exchange. “She is safe, she is on a plane, she is on her way home,” Biden said from the White House.
However, Biden is now facing questions for his decision to trade Bout, known as the “Merchant of Death,” for a celebrity.
The administration insists it is still trying to secure the release of Whelan, who has been jailed for nearly four years following a conviction on espionage charges.
Griner, 32, was taken into custody at Moscow Airport on Feb. 17, after Russian authorities said she was carrying vape canisters with cannabis oil in her luggage. She was later convicted on drug possession charges and sent to a Russian penal colony.
Watch the interview with Ambassador Roger Carstens above.