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Brittney Griner Freed From Russian Custody In Prisoner Swap For Arms Trafficker Viktor Bout

The White House struck a deal with Moscow to release WNBA star Brittney Griner from Russian custody, President Joe Biden announced on Thursday. The United States sent arms trafficker Viktor Bout to Russia in exchange.

“Moments ago, standing together with her wife, Cherelle [Griner], in the Oval Office, I spoke with Brittney Griner,” Biden said from the White House. “She’s safe, she’s on a plane, she’s on her way home after months of being unjustly detained in Russia, held under intolerable circumstances.”

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The prisoner swap ends a 10-month ordeal for Griner, who was arrested in February at an airport for carrying vape cartridges containing hashish oil in her luggage. In August, she was sentenced to nine years in a penal colony.

The deal with Russia didn’t include the release of former Marine Paul Whelan, who has been detained for almost four years. He was arrested at a Moscow hotel in December 2018 on espionage charges. He was convicted in 2020 and sentenced to 16 years in prison. He denies the allegations.

In a statement, Whelan’s family praised Griner’s release but said they were “devasted” that he was left behind. In September, Biden vowed to bring both Griner and Whelan back home.

“I can’t even fathom how Paul will feel when he learns. Paul has worked so hard to survive nearly four years of this injustice. His hopes had soared with the knowledge that the US government was taking concrete steps for once toward his release. He’d been worrying about where he’d live when he got back to the U.S.,” David Whelan, Paul’s brother, said in a statement.

Biden said that the former Marine was not forgotten but said Russia is treating Whelan’s case differently.

“We’ve not forgotten about Paul Whalen, who has been unjustly detained in Russia for years. This was not a choice of which American to bring home. We brought home Trevor Reed when we had a chance earlier this year. Sadly, for totally illegitimate reasons, Russia is treating Paul’s case differently than Brittney’s,” Biden said Thursday.

Marcello Correa

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