Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner released after prisoner exchange with Russia

Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner was released from prison in Russia on Thursday and on her way home, President Joe Biden said at the White House.
The United States agreed to release captured Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, Biden said, in a prisoner exchange that ends nearly 10 months of detention for Griner.
“I spoke to Britney Griner. She’s safe. She’s on a plane. She’s on her way home,” Biden said. This is a day we’ve been working towards for a long time. We never stopped pushing for her release. It required painstaking and intense negotiations.”
From Russia, 32-year-old Griner landed in the United Arab Emirates, where she boarded a plane to the United States.
“The past few months have been hell for Brittney and (wife) Cherelle,” Biden said. “She is relieved to finally go home. The fact remains that she has lost months of her life. She deserves space, privacy and time with her loved ones to recover and heal.”
A two-time Olympic gold medalist and active WNBA player with the Phoenix Mercury, Griner was detained at an airport near Moscow on February 17. She admitted in court to carrying marijuana cartridges in her luggage, as directed by her doctor.
“She wrote to me in July, she didn’t ask for special treatment,” Biden said. “She asked for a simple quote: ‘Please don’t forget about me and the other American prisoners. Please do everything you can to get us home.’ We never forgot Brittney.”
Griner was convicted of criminal drug possession and sentenced to more than nine years in prison. Last month, Russian officials informed Griner’s lawyer that she had been transferred to a penal colony, where forced labor for prisoners usually lasts between 12 and 14 hours a day.
The deal to release Griner had been negotiated for several months. Russia’s deputy foreign minister claimed there was renewed “activity” in negotiations to release Griner a week before Thanksgiving. The US publicly denied that those talks were active.
In initial public revelations about negotiations, US officials pushed for the release of Paul Whelan, Michigan corporate security official, who has been imprisoned in Russia since December 2018 on espionage charges. But the White House described the prisoner exchange confirmed Thursday as “one-for-one,” Bout for Griner.
Bout is a former Soviet Army lieutenant who was sentenced to 25 years in prison in 2012 for conspiring to sell tens of millions of dollars worth of weapons that U.S. officials say were used against Americans.
Flanked by Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris in the White House, a grateful Cherelle Griner thanked their administration for their efforts and committed to future work to help bring home wrongfully held prisoners.
“BG is not here to say this, but I am happy to speak on her behalf and say that BG and I will continue to work to get every American home, including Paul, whose family is in our hearts today,” she said . “…We understand that there are still people here going through what I have endured for the past nine months of missing their loved ones dearly.”
Messages of support for Griner began pouring in on Twitter Thursday morning from her fellow WNBA players.
Said Seattle Storm star Breanna Stewart: “BG is FREE!!! 294 days and she’s coming home!!!”
The 2022 WNBA season begins on May 19.

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