The US and Russia have exchanged jailed US basketball star Brittney Griner for notorious arms dealer Viktor Bout, who has been imprisoned in the U.S. for twelve years.
President Joe Biden said Griner was safe and on a plane home from the United Arab Emirates.
“I’m glad to say Brittney’s in good spirits…she needs time and space to recover,” he said at the White House.
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
The President dismissed the “show trial in Russia” that landed her in prison and said “she didn’t ask for special treatment.”
Griner was arrested in Russia for possessing cannabis oil
Griner was arrested at a Moscow airport in February for possessing cannabis oil and was sent to a penal colony last month.
Being aware that Moscow had long sought Bout’s release, the Biden administration proposed a prisoner exchange last July.
Russia’s foreign ministry confirmed the swap and said it had taken place at Abu Dhabi airport. “The Russian citizen has been returned to his homeland,” the ministry said in a statement, although Bout had likely not yet arrived on Russian soil.
Bout, who was most recently held at a federal prison in Marion, Illinois, was arrested by the Drug Enforcement Agency in Thailand following a sting operation in 2008. He was convicted of conspiring to kill Americans and began his 25-year sentence a decade ago.
CBS News says that US news media learned last week that the Griner-for-Bout swap was in the offering but agreed to a White House request to hold the reporting because officials expressed grave concern about the fragility of the then-emerging deal.
Biden administration officials warned that making details of the swap public beforehand would almost certainly lead Russia to pull out of the agreement and potentially endanger Griner’s well-being.
It is thought that the deal between the US and Russia for the swap was struck during the meeting of CIA Director William Burns with Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service Chief Sergey Naryshkin in Turkey last month.
Griner’s return in exchange for Bout marks the Biden administration’s second prisoner swap with Russia. In April, the U.S. traded Konstantin Yaroshenko, a Russian smuggler convicted of conspiring to import cocaine, for Trevor Reed. The former U.S. Marine had been imprisoned in Russia for nearly three years.