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Brittney Griner released in prisoner swap with Russia

Griner was freed in exchange for a Soviet Army lieutenant convicted of conspiring to sell tens of millions of dollars in arms that US officials said were used against Americans.

Court hearing of U.S. basketball player Brittney Griner
U.S. basketball player Brittney Griner, who was detained at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport and later charged with illegal possession of cannabis, walks after the court's verdict on Thursday in Khimki outside Moscow, Russia.
Evgenia Novozhenina / Reuters
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Brittney Griner was freed from prison in Russia and on her way home Thursday, President Joe Biden said at the White House.

The United States agreed to release imprisoned Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, Biden said, in a swap of prisoners that ends 10 months of detainment for Griner.

"Moments ago I spoke to Brittney Griner. She is safe. She is on a plane. She is on her way home," Biden said. "Held under intolerable circumstances, Brittney will soon be back in the arms of her loved ones and she should have been there all along. This is a day we worked toward for a long time. We never stopped pushing for her release. It took painstaking and intense negotiations."

From Russia, Griner landed in the UAE, Biden said Thursday.

"These past few months have been hell for Brittney and (wife) Cherelle," Biden said. "She's relieved to finally be heading home. The fact remains she's lost months of her love. She deserves space, privacy and time with her loved ones to recover and heal."

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A two-time Gold medalist and active WNBA player with the Phoenix Mercury, Griner was detained at a Moscow airport on February 10. She admitted in a courtroom to bringing marijuana vape cartridges in her luggage, which was prescribed by her doctor.

"She wrote to me back in July, she didn't ask for special treatment," Biden said. "She requested a simple quote, 'Please don't forget about me and the other American detainees. Please do all you can to bring us home.' We've never forgotten about Brittney."

Griner was convicted for criminal drug possession and sentenced to more than nine years in prison. Last month, Russian officials informed Griner's attorney she was relocated to a penal colony, where forced labor shifts for prisoners commonly last between 12 and 14 hours per day.

The deal to free Griner had been negotiated for several months. Russia's deputy foreign minister claimed that there was renewed "activity" in negotiations to free Griner one week before Thanksgiving. The US publicly denied those talks were active.

In initial public disclosures about negotiations, US officials insisted on the release of Michigan corporate security officer Paul Whalen, jailed since December 2018 in Russia on espionage charges. But the White House described the prisoner swap confirmed Thursday as "1 for 1," Bout for Griner.

Bout is a former Soviet Army lieutenant sentenced to 25 years for conspiring to sell tens of millions of dollars in arms that US officials said were used against Americans.

The 2022 WNBA season begins May 19.

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