WNBA star Brittney Griner FINALLY back on US soil, lands in Texas after 10 months in Russian prison
SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS: WNBA player Brittney Griner landed in Texas on Friday morning, December 9, after being released from a Russian penal colony as part of a high-profile exchange for a notorious arms dealer on Thursday, December 8. The 32-year-old who was arrested in Russia on drug charges in February, was scheduled for medical checks at a nearby military facility after she touched the US soil.
The basketball star was swapped for 55-year-old Viktor Bout, who dubbed the 'Merchant of Death' and was serving a 25-year prison sentence in the US. The exchange came during a period of heightened tensions amid Vladimir Putin's Ukraine invasion and criticism from Republicans for handing the arms dealer back to the Russian strongman.
Brittney Griner's Russia TIMELINE explained: From 9-year prison sentence in Russia to ultimate US return
'Putin outplayed Biden': Ex-Kremlin aide and others slam POTUS for swapping Brittney Griner with Viktor Bout
Griner was seen in video footage exiting a plane that landed on Friday at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland in Texas. She flew in from the UAE, where the prisoner swap reportedly took place. The deal was celebrated by supporters of President Joe Biden but heavily criticized by those on the other side of the political aisle, especially after the country failed to secure the release of Paul Whelan, a US marine who has been jailed for nearly four years in Russia.
Paul Whelan served as a cop in Michigan for 15 years.— Benny Johnson (@bennyjohnson) December 8, 2022
Paul Whelan enlisted in the Marines in 1994.
Paul Whelan deployed to Iraq in 2004.
Paul Whelan is an American hero.
On December 28, 2018, Paul was accused of “espionage” in Russia⁰Jail ever since
Biden did NOTHING to free him pic.twitter.com/1SUqnhN9QQ
However, it's worth noting that Griner is a two-time Olympic gold medalist, Baylor University All-American, and Phoenix Mercury pro basketball star. Her detainment in Russia brought unprecedented attention to the population of wrongful detainees in Russia, owing to her status as an openly gay Black woman who was incarcerated in a country known to be hostile to the LGBTQ community.
#BREAKING: Plane believed to be carrying basketball star Brittney Griner lands in U.S. after high-profile Russian prisoner swap.— Michael Pegram (@MichaelPNews) December 9, 2022
Video: @NBCNews pic.twitter.com/jyOeBN6ToG
The athlete was arrested at a Russian airport in February after officials found she was carrying vape canisters with cannabis oil. The Russian Foreign Ministry confirmed the swap in a statement, revealing that the exchange took place in Abu Dhabi and that Bout had been flown to his homeland. Meanwhile, Biden spoke to Griner via phone, and US officials said she would be offered specialized medical services and counseling.
According to the Daily Mail, Bout is a former Soviet Army lieutenant colonel whom the Justice Department once described as one of the world's most prolific arms dealers. He was arrested in Thailand in 2008 and extradited to the US in 2010, before being sentenced to 25 years in prison on charges that he conspired to sell tens of millions of dollars in weapons that US officials said were to be used against Americans.
2010. 60 Minutes on the capture of Viktor Bout, the Merchant of Death, the Lord of War. This is the guy Democrats released. SMH 😡 pic.twitter.com/AjAfgzkXKr— Lexit (@LexitMovement1) December 8, 2022
Griner was seen in footage released by Russian state media appearing relaxed and animated as she crossed paths with Bout on the airport tarmac and each headed toward the planes that would fly them home. The WNBA star was also seen in an earlier footage shortly after being freed, where she was asked what her mood was, to which she replied, "Happy."
Having said that, the swap has been widely criticized by Republicans, many of whom saw Bout's release as a gift to Putin amid his war effort in Ukraine and were shocked by the involvement of Saudi Arabia in the negotiations. The Russian Foreign Ministry said it had been negotiating with Washington to secure Bout's release "for a long time" but was "refused dialogue" on including him in any potential exchange. "Nevertheless, the Russian Federation continued to actively work to rescue our compatriot," the agency noted, adding, "The Russian citizen has been returned to his homeland."