Brittney Griner arrives in U.S. following her release by Russia in prisoner swap for arms dealer Viktor Bout

Brittney Griner arrived in the U.S. early Friday, touchdown at Kelly Field in San Antonio, Texas.

The WNBA star, who was held for months in Russian prisons on drug prices, was launched Thursday in a one-for-one prisoner swap for infamous worldwide arms dealer Viktor Bout, bringing an finish to an ordeal that sparked intense high-level negotiations between the Washington and the Moscow to safe her freedom.

Roger Carstens, the particular presidential envoy for hostage affairs, tweeted, “So happy to have Brittney back on U.S. soil. Welcome home BG!”

Per customary process for freed U.S. prisoners, Griner was anticipated to shortly bear a medical analysis.

American basketball star Brittney Griner is seen getting off a aircraft after touchdown on the Kelly Field in San Antonio on Dec. 9, 2022, after she was launched from a Russian jail in change for a infamous arms dealer.

SUZANNE CORDEIRO/AFP through Getty Images

President Biden introduced Griner’s impending return Thursday morning on the White House, saying, “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, Brittney will soon be back in the arms of her loved ones and she should have been there all along,” Mr. Biden mentioned. “This is a day we’ve worked toward for a long time. We never stopped pushing for her release.”

CBS News was first to report the swap, which came about in the United Arab Emirates, citing a U.S. official.Five former U.S. officers informed CBS News the settlement was reached final Thursday.  

The president mentioned he spoke to Griner by cellphone from the Oval Office, the place he was joined by Griner’s spouse Cherelle, Vice President Kamala Harris and Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

APTOPIX Russia Griner
In this picture constructed from video supplied by Russian Federal Security Service, WNBA star Brittney Griner sits in a aircraft as she flies to Abu Dhabi to be exchanged for Russian citizen Viktor Bout, on Dec. 9, 2022. 

/ AP

Mr. Biden mentioned he was “glad to be able to say Brittney is in good spirits.” He dismissed the “show trial in Russia” that landed her in jail and mentioned “she didn’t ask for special treatment.” 

To safe Griner’s release, the president ordered that Bout be freed and returned to Russia. Mr. Biden signed the commutation order chopping brief Bout’s 25-year federal jail sentence. 

Notably, the Griner-for-Bout change left retired U.S. Marine Paul Whelan imprisoned in Russia. Whelan has been in Russian custody for practically 4 years. He was convicted on espionage prices that the U.S. has referred to as false.

“We’ve not forgotten about Paul Whelan,” Mr. Biden mentioned Thursday, including “we will never give up” on securing his release.

U.S. officers informed reporters it turned clear in talks with the Russians that the prospect of securing the release of each Griner and Whelan in change for Bout was a nonstarter, with one official saying the U.S. had “a choice between bringing home one particular American — Brittney Griner — or bringing home none.”

Whelan told CNN in a cellphone name Thursday he was joyful Griner was free however he was “greatly disappointed that more has not been done to secure my release, especially as the four-year anniversary of my arrest is coming up.” This month marks the fourth anniversary of Whelan’s time in Russian custody.

Griner, a 32-year-old star middle for the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury, was detained at a Russian airport in February and later pleaded responsible to prices stemming from the invention of cannabis-derived oil cartridges in her baggage. Griner mentioned she did not imply to convey the cartridges with her when she traveled to the nation to play in a Russian basketball league in the course of the WNBA offseason. 

After 5 months of stalled diplomacy and varied permutations of potential swap preparations — together with a beforehand unreported provide by the U.S. this previous summer time to ship two prisoners again to Russia for the 2 Americans — sources say the one-for-one change got here collectively during the last two weeks. 

Whelan, who as soon as labored as a company safety contractor, was in Moscow for a good friend’s wedding ceremony when he was detained at a lodge in December 2018. Russian authorities later sentenced him to 16 years in jail for espionage — a cost the U.S. and Whelan denied. 

Bout, who was most lately held at a federal jail in Marion, Illinois, was arrested by the Drug Enforcement Agency in Thailand following a sting operation in 2008. He was convicted of conspiring to kill Americans and commenced his 25-year sentence a decade in the past.

Griner’s arrest coincided with the February begin of Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, and all U.S. dealings with the Kremlin have been difficult by that battle. The U.S. has mentioned each Griner and Whelan have been “wrongfully detained,” and officers have suspected that Russia has been utilizing the American prisoners as leverage. 

Griner’s return for Bout marks the Biden administration’s second prisoner swap with Russia. In April, the U.S. traded Konstantin Yaroshenko, a Russian smuggler convicted of conspiring to import cocaine, for Trevor Reed, a former U.S. Marine who had been imprisoned in Russia for practically three years. 

CBS News realized final Thursday that the Griner-for-Bout swap was in the offing however agreed to a White House request to carry the reporting as a result of officers expressed grave concern in regards to the fragility of the then-emerging deal. 

The Biden administration officers warned that making particulars of the swap public beforehand would nearly actually lead Russia to drag out of the settlement and probably endanger Griner’s well-being. 

Nancy Cordes, Ed O’Keefe, Sara Cook, Camilla Schick, Tucker Reals, Haley Ott, Melissa Quinn and Caitlin Yilek contributed reporting. 

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