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Brittney Griner Is Freed in Prisoner Swap With Russia, Thank you President Biden!

Written by on December 8, 2022

WASHINGTON — Brittney Griner, the American basketball star imprisoned in Russia, was released on Thursday after 10 months of captivity after President Biden agreed to a swap for Viktor Bout, an imprisoned Russian arms dealer known as the “Merchant of Death,” the president said.

Brittney Griner leaving court after a hearing in Khimki, near Moscow, Russia, in August.

On Thursday morning, Mr. Biden tweeted a picture of himself and Cherelle Griner, Ms. Griner’s wife, in the Oval Office, with the words: “Moments ago I spoke to Brittney Griner. She is safe. She is on a plane. She is on her way home.”

Paul Whelan, another American held prisoner, was not released on Thursday despite months of efforts by U.S. diplomats to include him as part of the deal with the Russians for the exchange with Mr. Bout.

Ms. Griner, an All-Star center with the W.N.B.A.’s Phoenix Mercury and a two-time Olympic gold medalist, was serving a nine-year prison sentence that put her at the center of a fraught geopolitical showdown between Washington and Moscow. In February, she was stopped at an airport near Moscow after customs officials found two vape cartridges containing hashish oil in her luggage.

Her case became an international cause because she was seen as a hostage held by President Vladimir V. Putin’s government as Russia was subjected to a broad swath of international sanctions in response to its invasion of Ukraine a week after her arrest. The Biden administration’s efforts to negotiate a prisoner swap with Russia for her andMr. Whelan, had stalled for months as she was sent to a penal colony outside Moscow.

Ms. Griner was described by one of her lawyers this fall as struggling emotionally and increasingly worried that she would not be freed. She was permitted outside once a day to walk for an hour in a small courtyard, according to her lawyer, and otherwise confined to a cramped cell with two cellmates. She slept on a specially elongated bed to accommodate her 6-foot-9 frame.

American officials met with her in the penal colony last month for the first time since a Russian court rejected her appeal and reported that she was doing “as well as can be expected,” as a White House spokeswoman put it at the time. Ms. Griner turned 32 while in custody and her family continued to press for her release.

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