Home Biden announces prisoner exchange that will return WNBA star Brittney Griner home

Biden announces prisoner exchange that will return WNBA star Brittney Griner home

Chris Graham
Brittney Griner
(© Keeton Gale – Shutterstock)

Brittney Griner has been freed from a Russian penal colony in a one-for-one swap for an international arms dealer, ending a 10-month ordeal for the WNBA star.

“She’s safe. She’s on a plane. She’s on her way home,” President Biden said Thursday morning, with Griner’s wife, Cherelle Griner, at his side. “After months of being unjustly detained in Russia, held under intolerable circumstances, Brittney will soon be back in the arms of her loved ones. And she should have been there all along.”

Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, had been arrested at a Russian airport in February on charges stemming from the discovery of vape cartridges containing less than a gram of cannabis oil in her luggage.

She later pleaded guilty to the charges in a Russian court at the advice of lawyers to allow for negotiations for her release to begin.

In the aftermath of her guilty plea, she was transferred to a penal colony to begin serving out a nine-year sentence.

Behind the scenes, the Biden administration had been trying to negotiate the release of Griner and another American, Paul Whelan, a retired Marine who has been detained in Russia for four years on espionage charges that the U.S. has called false, for several months, proposing a two-for-two prisoner swap with the Kremlin, which pushed instead for a one-for-one swap involving Griner and the arms dealer, Viktor Bout.

President Biden signed a commutation order cutting short Bout’s 25-year sentence on his conviction on arms trafficking charges to facilitate that exchange, which had been developing quietly for the past several days.

Biden, speaking to the nation Thursday morning, said the efforts to try to win the freedom of Whelan are ongoing.

“We’ve not forgotten about Paul Whelan,” Biden said.

Chris Graham

Chris Graham

Chris Graham is the founder and editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1994 alum of the University of Virginia, Chris is the author and co-author of seven books, including Poverty of Imagination, a memoir published in 2019, and Team of Destiny: Inside Virginia Basketball’s Run to the 2019 National Championship, and The Worst Wrestling Pay-Per-View Ever, published in 2018. For his commentaries on news, sports and politics, go to his YouTube page, or subscribe to his Street Knowledge podcast. Email Chris at [email protected].