Brittney Griner: Russia frees basketball star in prisoner swap

Jailed Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout is exchanged by US at Abu Dhabi airport, according to Moscow

Russia said on Thursday it had traded US basketball star Brittney Griner for jailed Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout in a prisoner swap at Abu Dhabi airport.

“On December 8, 2022, the procedure for the exchange of Russian citizen Viktor Bout for US citizen Brittney Griner, who were serving their sentences in correctional institutions of the United States of America and the Russian Federation, respectively, was successfully completed at Abu Dhabi Airport,” Russia’s foreign ministry said.

“Washington categorically refused to engage in dialogue on the inclusion of the Russian in the exchange scheme,” the foreign ministry said.

“Nevertheless, the Russian Federation continued to actively work to rescue our compatriot. The Russian citizen has been returned to his homeland.”


The swap was confirmed by US officials with direct knowledge of the negotiations who were not authorised to publicly discuss the deal before a White House announcement and spoke on condition of anonymity.

US president Joe Biden spoke with Ms Griner on the phone on Thursday while her wife, Cherelle, was in the Oval Office.

“She’s safe, she’s on a plane, she’s on her way home,” Mr Biden said later.

Ms Griner had been sentenced to nine years and moved to a penal colony last month.

The Phoenix Mercury basketball star who played in Russia during the off-season pleaded guilty to drug smuggling in July after customs officials found vape cartridges containing cannabis oil in her luggage at a Moscow airport in February.

Mr Biden called the sentence “unacceptable.

Paul Whelan, a former US marine who is serving a 16-year sentence in Russia on spying charges that he denies, was not included in the exchange.

One White House official said that Russia was unwilling to negotiate his inclusion, and so Biden had to choose between getting Ms Griner back or no one.

Mr Biden’s authorisation to release a Russian criminal once nicknamed “the Merchant of Death” underscored the escalating pressure his administration faced to get Ms Griner home, particularly after the recent resolution of her criminal case and her subsequent transfer to a penal colony. – Agencies