Brittney Griner released in US-Russia prisoner swap 

Image: Wikimedia Commons

WNBA star Brittney Griner has returned to the United States after ten months of being held a prisoner in Russia, the BBC reported.

Griner had flown to Russia to play basketball and was arrested and jailed for carrying cannabis oil at a Moscow airport in February. 

She was found guilty, sentenced to nine years in prison, and sent to a penal colony. During her trial in Russia, she said the cannabis oil found in her bag had been an “honest mistake”.

Griner was exchanged for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout on Thursday. She was flown into San Antonio, where she will receive medical care.

President Joe Biden first announced that Griner was returning home on Thursday. Her wife, Cherelle Griner, who attended Biden’s announcement at the White House, was expected to meet her in San Antonio, NPR reports.

Griner’s secure return achieved a top goal of President Biden, but he received criticism for failing to win freedom for another American, former Marine Paul Whelan, who has been jailed in Russia for nearly four years.

In a Thursday press conference, Biden said he spoke by phone to Griner and that she was safe and relieved but deserved privacy and rest. U.S. officials said she would receive specialized medical services and counseling.

Russia has long sought the release of Bout, a notorious convicted arms trafficker known as the Merchant of Death. He had been held in an American prison for 12 years. 

Griner is one of the best-known athletes in America. During the U.S. basketball season, the double Olympic champion was a star center for Phoenix Mercury in the WNBA. She flew to Russia to play during the off-season in the U.S. 

Griner, who turned 32 in October, will be welcomed in Houston with a light show, the city’s Mayor Sylvester Turner said.

In a tweet, the US special envoy for hostage affairs, Roger D. Carstens, welcomed Griner home.

“So happy to have Brittney back on US soil,” he said.

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