(CMR) US WNBA star Brittney Griner has been released from a Russian prison in a high-level prison exchange for a convicted Russian arms dealer.
Brittney Griner was arrested in February, just before the start of the Russia and Ukraine war, for bringing in vape cartridges containing cannabis oil through a Moscow airport as she was returning to the country to play for a basketball league. She was sentenced to nine years in prison for the offense.
Griner was freed from a Russian penal colony on Thursday in a prisoner exchange for convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, a US official confirmed.
While many celebrate Griner's release, some are questioning that Paul Whelan, an American jailed for nearly four years in Russia, has not been released in any deal.
Biden's authorization to release notorious Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, nicknamed the Merchant of Death, underscored the escalating pressure his administration faced to get Griner home.
Biden tweeted about Griner's release Thursday morning, writing that she is on her way back to the United States.
On Thursday, Biden spoke with Griner while her wife, Cherelle, was in the Oval Office. Biden said these “past few months have been hell for Brittney” but that she was in good spirits.
“Today, my family is whole,” Cherelle Griner said, thanking the people who helped to secure her wife's release.
Russia's foreign ministry also confirmed the swap Thursday, saying in a statement carried by Russian news agencies that the exchange took place in Abu Dhabi and that Bout has been flown home.