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Women’s professional basketball star Brittney Griner, jailed in Russia for a drug charge earlier this year, has reportedly been released after a prisoner swap deal was reached by Washington and Moscow.
Citing official sources, CBS News reported that she was “released Thursday in a one-for-one prisoner swap for international arms dealer Viktor Bout.”
“The one-for-one exchange agreement negotiated with Moscow in recent weeks was given final approval by President Biden within just the last week, according to sources familiar with the deal. The swap, first reported by CBS News, took place on Thursday in the United Arab Emirates,” the outlet noted further.
“A White House official said President Biden was in the Oval Office Thursday morning on the phone, speaking with Griner, and her wife Cherelle Griner and Vice President Kamala Harris were also in the room. Per standard procedure for freed U.S. prisoners, Griner was expected to quickly undergo a medical evaluation,” the outlet continued.
In a tweet from his official Twitter account, Biden wrote: “She is safe. She is on a plane. She is on her way home.”
Moments ago I spoke to Brittney Griner.
She is safe.
She is on a plane.
She is on her way home. pic.twitter.com/FmHgfzrcDT
— President Biden (@POTUS) December 8, 2022
In August, reports claimed that Russian officials had confirmed that Moscow was in talks to swap Griner and another American being held in Russia, Paul Whelan, for Bout, the notorious “Merchant of Death” arms dealer who has been imprisoned in the United States since 2010.
At the time, a former DEA agent sounded the alarm on this potential deal, calling it “dangerous” for the U.S. and the West.
Rob “Zach” Zachariasiewicz, in an op-ed for USA Today, warned against trading Bout for Griner.
“Bout, who is known as the ‘Merchant of Death,’ provided the fuel for conflicts across the globe. He was a critical player in the global illicit arms trade not because he could obtain weapons but because he could deliver his destructive cargo anywhere in the world through his control of a private fleet of military aircraft. And he did just that,” the former DEA agent wrote.
“A tremendous amount of resources and political capital were spent on the critical national security investigation into Bout’s actions. Lives were placed at risk, and tireless efforts were made. Now many voices are not being adequately considered in these deliberations over whether to free Bout in exchange for an American. Those voices include an entire generation of maimed and orphaned inhabitants of war-torn countries throughout the world, especially in Africa,” he added.
“In a recorded undercover meeting, he declared to persons he believed to be terrorist facilitators that the United States was his sworn enemy. He offered them, as part of an extensive arsenal of heavy weapons, hundreds of surface-to-air missiles to be used against U.S. military advisers and the Colombian military,” Zachariasiewicz noted further.
“Negotiating for Bout’s release is a feckless and shortsighted foreign policy. Such actions merely encourage our adversaries to engage in the kidnapping, illegal detention, and ransoming of American citizens throughout the world,” he wrote.
In August, Griner was sentenced to nine years in prison on charges of drug possession and smuggling, for less than a gram of cannabis oil. She pleaded guilty to bringing vape cartridges that contained cannabis oil into Russia, which is a crime.
“She’s devastated. She is very upset, and she’s honestly quite shocked, so she needs to digest what happened today,” her attorney Maria Blagovolina, a partner at Rybalkin Gortsunyan Dyakin and Partners, said to People magazine at the time.
Trevor Reed, an American who was held for three years in Russia before being released earlier this year, told CNN at the time of Griner’s sentencing: “Regardless of how you feel about Brittney Griner’s case, that sentence is clearly political. There’s no denying that.
“Once you are convicted in Russian court, you do have a chance to go to appeals, and appeal that decision to another kangaroo court in Moscow. So after that trial, you know, depending on Brittney’s decision on whether she wants to appeal or not, she may stay in Moscow at the detention facility that she is already at until her appeals are completed,” Reed said.
“Or if she chooses not to go to appeals, they may transfer her to a forced labor camp. Considering the fact that the Russian government is considering exchanging her, they may also decide to leave her in Moscow to make it easier for her to be returned to the United States,” he added.