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Brittney Griner: In exchange for arms dealer Viktor Bout, Russia releases US basketball player

Brittney Griner, an incarcerated American basketball player, was traded to Russia for notorious arms dealer Viktor Bout, who had been detained in an American jail for 12 years.

According to President Joe Biden, Griner is safe and returning home from the United Arab Emirates on a plane.

He stated at the White House, “I’m delighted to hear Brittney’s in excellent spirits… she needs time and space to heal.

Griner was detained in February at a Moscow airport for having cannabis oil, and last month he was transferred to a prison camp.

In July, the Biden administration suggested a prisoner swap, knowing that Moscow had long demanded Bout’s release.

Two private aircraft flew the duo from Moscow and Washington, respectively, to Abu Dhabi airport for the elaborate swap, and then flew them back home.

Brittney Griner: In exchange for arms dealer Viktor Bout, Russia releases US basketball player
Brittney Griner: In exchange for arms dealer Viktor Bout, Russia releases US basketball player

On the airport tarmac, they allegedly passed each other as they went by.

The Russian foreign ministry issued a statement saying, “The Russian citizen has been returned to his hometown.” He called his family a few hours later to let them know he was back in Russia. According to reports, his aircraft made a refueling stop in the Dagestan region, three hour flight from Moscow.

Cherelle Griner, Brittney Griner’s wife, expressed her gratitude for the Biden administration’s efforts in gaining her release in the Oval Office, saying, “I’m just standing here overwhelmed with emotions.”

A joint Saudi-UAE statement claims that UAE President Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman were instrumental in the mediation efforts. The Saudi heir to the throne enjoys good ties with Vladimir Putin of Russia, and in September he assisted in organizing a complicated exchange of hundreds of captives held by Russia and Ukraine.

However, the White House insisted that no mediation had taken place. According to press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, “The United States and Russia were the only nations that negotiated this accord.”

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The US made it plain that ex-marine Paul Whelan should be included in a trade when talks to obtain Griner’s release during the summer began.

But it soon became apparent that Whelan, who was imprisoned in 2018 on charges of spying, would not be included in the Russian exchange, shattering hopes for his family.

Alexei Tarasov, Bout’s attorney, said on Russian television that the US had always demanded the release of two of its citizens, and Russia’s foreign ministry lamented that “Washington categorically refuses to engage in talks.”

“As we can see, the exchange ultimately followed a one-for-one format. Since a true transaction ought to be equal, “Mr. Tarasov added.

Alla, Bout’s wife, claimed on Russian TV that she had only spoken to him two days prior: “He was slated to give me a call tonight. We’ll now meet up and give each other hugs. Better than any phone call, that.”

Viktor Bout became one of the most sought persons in the world after providing weapons to warlords and unsavory governments.

The 2005 Hollywood film Lord of War, which was largely based on his life, was inspired by the activities of the Russian, who was known as the “merchant of death” for smuggling guns in the years following the fall of the Soviet Union.

An intricate US sting operation that year resulted in his arrest at a hotel in Thailand’s capital city of Bangkok, angering the Russian government, and putting an end to his clandestine career.

After being sent to the United States two years later, he has been imprisoned there for the past 12 years for planning to support terrorists and kill Americans.

Bout’s situation is very different from that of his counterpart in the prisoner swap.

One of the most well-known sportswomen in America is Brittney Griner, 32. The two-time Olympic champion plays center for Phoenix Mercury in the WNBA during the US basketball season.

Her only reason for flying to Moscow was to play in Russia during the off-season in the US. She told her Russian trial that the cannabis oil found in her bag had been an “honest mistake”.

In his tweet, President Biden posted a picture from the Oval Office alongside Griner’s wife Cherelle.

“Moments ago I spoke to Brittney Griner. She is safe. She is on a plane. She is on her way home,” he wrote. Shortly afterward they both spoke publicly in statements carried live on US TV networks.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken singled out the efforts of presidential envoy Roger Carstens, who was accompanying Griner on the plane from the UAE.

Leading figures in US basketball welcomed her release, among them twice WNBA champion Breanna Stewart of the Seattle Storm.

Griner was moved last month to a penal colony in Mordovia, a remote area some 500km, (310m) south-east of Moscow. She was held not far from where Paul Whelan is serving his 16-year jail term on spying charges.

In his statement, President Biden said Russia had treated Whelan’s case differently from Griner’s for totally illegitimate reasons.

“While we have not yet succeeded in securing Paul’s release we have not given up; we will not give up,” he vowed.

Whelan’s brother, David, praised Griner’s release and said US officials had warned the family in advance that Paul Whelan was not part of the exchange.

“It’s clear the US government needs to be more assertive,” he said in a statement. “If bad actors like Russia are going to grab innocent Americans, the US needs a swifter, more direct response.”

Former White House national security advisor John Bolton condemned the deal as not a swap but a surrender by the Biden administration: “Terrorists and rogue states all around the world will take note of this and it endangers other Americans in the future.”

Thursday’s prisoner exchange is not the first between Russia and the US this year. US marine Trevor Reed spent three years in jail for assault before being traded last April for Konstantin Yaroshenko, a Russian pilot convicted of smuggling cocaine.

Speaking from a Russian jail colony, Paul Whelan claimed that because he had been charged with spying, Russia “placed me at a level higher than what they did with Trevor and Brittney.”

Prior to their international journey, Americans were cautioned by Vice President Biden to exercise caution and be aware of the possibility of being unlawfully imprisoned by a foreign government.

source: summarybio.com