WNBA star Brittney Griner has finally been released from Russian custody after being detained in February for drug possession.
US officials: Russia frees WNBA player Brittney Griner in prisoner swap, with US releasing Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout. pic.twitter.com/JEsGaOfFiu
— ESPN (@espn) December 8, 2022
Griner, a Baylor graduate, is a former first-overall selection by the Phoenix Mercury. Since she was drafted in 2013, Griner has earned three all-WNBA first team honors, as well as two defensive player of the year awards. Thus far the center has missed the entirety of the current WNBA season while imprisoned.
Griner was originally detained February in Moscow after Russian authorities discovered cannabis oil in her luggage. The Russian government later charged Griner with drug possession. In Russia, drug possession can carry a sentence of up to 10 years.
Since her imprisonment, Griner has become the center of a prolonged, and often public, negotiation between the United States and Russia. Griner’s jailing also became public spectacle, with a plethora of professional athletes and other public figures coming forward to lobby for her release.
Ultimately, the Biden administration was able to set up a prisoner exchange in Abu Dhabi, finally sending the WNBA star home.
President Biden agreed to the prisoner exchange. Originally the exchange also included American prisoner Paul Wheelan. Wheelan is a former marine and American corporate security executive. The Russian government pushed for a 1-to-1 prisoner swap, so Wheelan was unable to return 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
“She is safe, she is on a plane, she is on her way home,” Biden said. “She will soon be back in the arms of her loved ones and she should have been there all along.”
The United States government exchanged Griner for Viktor Bout, nicknamed the “Merchant of Death.” Bout is a Russian arms dealer who was in the midst of serving a 25 year prison sentence for conspiracy to kill Americans. The film “Lord of War” is based on Bout’s exploits.