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Brittney Griner freed from Russian prison in exchange for Viktor Bout

  • Brittney Griner freed from Russian prison in exchange for Viktor Bout
    Basketball star released as US agrees to free convicted arms dealer in dramatic prisoner swap Brittney Griner freed from Russian prison in exchange for Viktor Bout
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Basketball star released as US agrees to free convicted arms dealer in dramatic prisoner swap

Russia freed the jailed US basketball star Brittney Griner on Thursday in a dramatic high-level prisoner exchange for the notorious arms dealer Viktor Bout, the so-called “Merchant of Death” who had been held in a US prison for 12 years.

Joe Biden, who had made Griner’s release a top priority after she spent almost 10 months in jail on drug charges, said in an address from the White House he found her “in good spirits” when speaking following the swap in Abu Dhabi.

“She’s safe, she’s on a plane, she’s on her way home after months of being unjustly detained in Russia, held under intolerable circumstances,” he said. “Brittney will soon be back in the arms of her loved ones, and she should have been there all along.”

But the president expressed regret the deal did not include Paul Whelan, a Michigan corporate security executive jailed since December 2018 on espionage charges his family and the US government deny.

Biden said: “Sadly, for totally illegitimate reasons, Russia is treating Paul’s case differently than Brittney’s. And while we have not yet succeeded in securing Paul’s release, we are not giving up. We will never give up.”

Griner’s wife, Cherelle, stood with Biden and the vice-president, Kamala Harris, and said she was “overwhelmed with emotion”.

“The most important emotion that I have right now is just sincere gratitude for President Biden and his entire administration. He just mentioned this work is not easy, and it has not been,” she said.

“Today my family is whole, but as you all are aware, there’s so many other families who are not whole. [Brittney] is not here to say this but I will gladly speak on her behalf and say that BG and I will remain committed to the work of getting every American home, including Paul, whose family is in our hearts today.”

The second such exchange in eight months, following the freeing of Trevor Reed in April, procured the release of the most prominent American detained abroad.

The Russian foreign ministry confirmed to state media that Griner had been exchanged for Bout in a secret swap in Abu Dhabi but did not give more details.