Christmas has come early for friends, family and fans of Brittney Griner. Breaking news from the White House Thursday morning announced that a deal had been met with Russia to free WNBA star Brittney Griner from a Russian prison.
The high level prisoner exchange was agreed upon with the United States releasing Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, in exchange for Griner’s freedom and safe return to the states. The authorization from Biden to release the Russian felon nicknamed “the Merchant of Death,” sadly, left behind an American jailed who has been jailed for nearly four years in Russia. Bout was a former Soviet Army lieutenant colonel whose activities inspired a Hollywood movie, was serving a 25-year sentence in the U.S. on charges that he conspired to sell tens of millions of dollars in weapons that U.S officials said were to be used against Americans.
Even though the United States had been working to bring both Griner and Paul Whelan, a Michigan corporate security executive jailed in Russia since December 2018 on espionage charges, the final deal was a one-for-one swap. The U.S. government has classified Whelan as wrongfully detained. He was sentenced in 2020 to 16 years in prison.
Griner was arrested in February at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport after customs officials located a vape canisters with cannabis oil in her luggage. She plead guilty in July, however she stood trial because in the Russia’s judicial system admitting guilt does not automatically end a case.
She stood before the Russian judge and admitted to possessing the canisters, but explained that she had no criminal intent and admitted that the item was in her luggage was due to quick packing and an oversight.
In a brief statement from the White House, Biden confirmed Griner’s release and said that she would be back in the United States within 24 hours.