The governments of the United States and Russia confirmed a prisoner exchange on Thursday, December 8. Moscow released US basketball star Brittney Griner, while Washington released Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout. The White House described this swap as “one for one,” amid expectations that more of its citizens will return to the country.
America’s professional basketball star Brittney Griner returns home. This was confirmed by the Government of Joe Biden this Thursday, December 8.
The athlete, detained since last February in Russia, was released in exchange for the release of Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, who was in a US prison.
“A few moments ago I spoke with Brittney Griner. She is safe. She is on a plane. She is on her way home (…) Detained in intolerable circumstances, Brittney will soon be back in the arms of her loved ones and should have been like this all the time. time. This is a day we worked for a long time. We never stopped pushing for his release. It took intense and painstaking negotiations,” Biden said.
The exchange of the two detainees took place in the United Arab Emirates and from there the 32-year-old athlete boarded a flight to the United States.
“This is a day we have worked for a long time. We have never stopped pressing for his release. It took painstaking and intense negotiations, and I want to thank all the officials in my Government who have worked tirelessly to get her released. I also want to thank the United Arab Emirates for helping us facilitate Brittney’s return,” said Cherelle, wife of the basketball player.
The two-time Olympic gold medalist and active WNBA player on the Phoenix Mercury team was detained at an airport near Moscow on February 17.
In court, he admitted that he had marijuana cartridges in his luggage, as prescribed by his doctor.
And last August she was sentenced to more than nine years in prison on charges of drug possession and smuggling.
Last November, Russian officials informed Griner’s lawyer that the young woman had been relocated to a penal colony, where forced labor shifts for prisoners typically last 12 to 14 hours a day, raising further concern about her conditions.
Washington continues to negotiate for the release of more Americans
The deal to release the professional basketball player was negotiated over several months. Since last June, Washington has assured that it is willing to release Bout in exchange for Griner and former Marine Paul Whelan, who was arrested in 2018 and has been serving a 16-year prison sentence since 2020, in the Mordovia region, on charges of espionage which he rejects.
But Moscow closed the bands and finally only allowed the release of the basketball player. Biden assured that his Administration will continue to “negotiate in good faith” the delivery of Whelan.
“Unfortunately and for totally illegitimate reasons, Russia is treating Paul’s case differently from Brittney’s. And although we have not yet managed to secure Paul’s release, we are not giving up. We will never give up,” Biden said.
Meet Brittney Griner & Marine Paul Whelan.
Both were convicted in Russian courts on dubious charges.
Both serving multi-year sentences in Russian prison.
Brittney hates America
Paul served America
Guess which one Biden traded a terrorist to free?
semper fi paul pic.twitter.com/tuP1R6AZpf
— Benny Johnson (@bennyjohnson) December 8, 2022
The ‘merchant of death’ regains his freedom
Meanwhile, on Russian soil they obtained in exchange the release of arms dealer Viktor Bout, arrested in Thailand in March 2008 and extradited to the US in November 2010.
The man known as ‘the merchant of death’ was sentenced by a New York court in April 2012 to 25 years behind bars on charges of arms trafficking.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said his government “had been negotiating his release for some time.”
“Washington categorically rejected the dialogue on the inclusion of Russian in the exchange scheme (…) However, the Russian Federation continued to work actively to rescue our compatriot,” they said from that portfolio.
Bout was arrested after US agents posing as members of Colombia’s now-defunct FARC guerrilla group set him up in a Bangkok hotel.
Since then, Moscow has strongly criticized his arrest, calling his subsequent conviction “unfounded” and “impartial” and saying it would do “everything possible to bring Bout back to his motherland.”
A promise that is fulfilled now, 14 years later, in the midst of new tensions between Washington and Moscow over the war in Ukraine.
In fact, the arrest of Brittney Griner became publicly known after Russia launched the conflict against its neighboring country on February 24. The situation took on political overtones and increased discord between the two powers after the US promoted economic and international sanctions against the Kremlin.
With Reuters and EFE
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