Brittney Griner released by Russia in 1-for-1 prisoner swap for arms dealer Viktor Bout

Brittney Griner, the WNBA star who was held for months in Russian prisons on drug prices, was released Thursday in a one-for-one prisoner swap for worldwide arms dealer Viktor Bout, CBS News realized early Thursday from a U.S. official. The one-for-one trade settlement negotiated with Moscow in latest weeks was given closing approval by President Biden inside simply the final week, in response to sources accustomed to the deal. The swap, first reported by CBS News, happened on Thursday in the United Arab Emirates.

Five former U.S. officers informed CBS News the settlement had been reached as of final Thursday.  

A White House official stated the president spoke to Brittney Griner by cellphone. The name occurred in the Oval Office, the place the president was joined by Cherelle Griner, Vice President Kamala Harris and Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Per normal process for freed U.S. prisoners, Griner was anticipated to shortly bear a medical analysis. 

President Biden is talking on the White House concerning the prisoner swap that noticed Brittney Griner released. You can to observe his remarks reside in the participant on the prime of this web page.  

“She is safe. She is on a plane. She is on her way home,” Mr. Biden stated in a tweet, which included a pair pictures of himself in the Oval Office with Cherelle Griner.

Speaking shortly after Griner was released, Mr. Biden stated on the White House he was “glad to be able to say Brittney is in good spirits,” and that she was wanting ahead to getting residence. The president dismissed the “show trial in Russia” that landed her in jail, and stated “she didn’t ask for special treatment.” 

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

Notably, the Griner-for-Bout trade leaves retired U.S. Marine Paul Whelan imprisoned in Russia. Whelan has been in Russian custody for almost 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 stated Thursday, including “we will never give up” on securing his launch.

President Biden meets with households of Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan


Griner 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.   

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

It stays unclear what led to the breakthrough, however the Biden administration made at the least one concession by agreeing to scale back the swap to 1 American for one Russian. 

At the top of November, the State Department blasted the Russian authorities for a failure to discount in good religion.  As lately as Sunday, on CBS News “Face the Nation,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken stated U.S. negotiators had been “actively engaged” with their Russian counterparts.  

Blinken says U.S. stays “actively engaged” with Russia over potential prisoner swap


Asked by CBS News about stories of Russia’s want for a one-for-one swap in spite of America’s hopes to return each Griner and Whelan, Blinken famous that any deal can be topic to mutual settlement. 

“The other side gets a vote in this. It’s not just what we want. It’s what they’re prepared to do,” Blinken stated, with out denying the Russian stories. However, he indicated the administration was persevering with to push for the return of each Americans.

“One way or another, one day or another, we’re going to see that through,” he stated. 

In July, the Biden administration stated it had provided the Kremlin what it described as a “significant proposal” to deliver each American prisoners residence. The White House by no means publicly confirmed what the U.S. had provided, however privately, officers indicated to CBS News that preliminary information stories pointing to the potential for solely Bout’s launch had been incorrect, and that the president was ready to contemplate letting two Russian prisoners return in trade for each Griner and Whelan’s freedom. 

Whelan, who as soon as labored as a company safety contractor, was in Moscow for a pal’s wedding ceremony when he was detained at a resort in December 2018.  Russian authorities later sentenced him to 16 years in jail for espionage — a cost the U.S. and Whelan denied.  This month marks the fourth anniversary of Whelan’s time in Russian custody. 

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 started his 25-year sentence a decade in the past. 

Viktor Bout (2010) | 60 Minutes Archive


Prior to his arrest, Bout was accused by the U.N. of arming Liberian President Charles Taylor in the course of the brutal civil battle in Sierra Leone. He served because the inspiration for Nicholas Cage’s character in the film “Lord of War.” Bout’s launch is certain to spark criticism from among the DEA brokers who tracked and arrested him. 

Griner’s arrest coincided with the February begin to Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, and all U.S. dealings with the Kremlin have been difficult by that battle. The U.S. has stated each Griner and Whelan had 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. The former U.S. Marine had been imprisoned in Russia for almost three years. 

American freed in prisoner swap discusses life in Russian jail


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 concerning the fragility of the then-emerging deal. 

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

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

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