VIDEO: Brittney Griner & Alleged “Merchant of Death” Meet During Prisoner Swap On Tarmac In United Arab Emirates
WNBA star Brittney Griner has arrived back in the United States after being released from a Russian penal colony. The United States government successfully arranged a prisoner swap for the basketball player in exchange for the release of Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, nicknamed “Merchant of Death,” by many U.S. media outlets.
Griner’s arrival back home comes ten months after she was arrested in a Russian airport for possessing cannabis oils in her luggage. Bout was serving a 25-year prison sentence that was issued back in 2010, following terrorism charges that stemmed from a U.S sting operation.The exchange was negotiated with Moscow over the past few weeks and final agreement was reached on Thursday, according to reports. The deal was approved by President Biden. Griner and Bout were exchanged on Thursday in the United Arab Emirates.
Video released by Russian news agency TACC shows the moment the former prisoners were swapped on the tarmac on Thursday in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. President Biden thanked the country for helping to broker the deal. Biden said efforts to bring Griner home took “painstaking and intense negotiations.”
The video shows Griner in a red coat walking right up to Bout as officials shake hands and trade the former prisoners.
More video, shown below, of Griner on a plane heading back to the United States was released, where Griner says she is “good” and “happy.” The WNBA star no longer has her trademark dreadlock hair style, sporting a short do after she was transferred to a Russian penal colony last month. Griner’s release comes following a Russian court denying her appeal of her nine-year sentence. Griner’s last hope was the diplomatic efforts to free her via a prisoners swap.
However, Griner’s release was met with mixed emotions, particularly in the sports world. Many expressed joy and relief that she was back and others expressed concern over the release of Bout and the failure of the U.S. to negotiate the release of former Marine Paul Whelan.
President Biden and Griner’s wife spoke Thursday, vowing to continue to work to help free Whelan and other Americans detained abroad. Griner’s wife Cherelle said she was “whole” now that Griner was freed.
Whelan was detained back in 2018 after being arrested on espionage charges while in Russia for a family member’s wedding. He was sentenced to sixteen years in prison.
“This was not a choice of which American to bring home,” Biden said Thursday. “Sadly, for totally illegitimate reasons, Russia is treating Paul’s case differently than Brittney’s. And while we have not yet succeeded in securing Paul’s release, we are not giving up. We will never give up.”
“I don’t understand why I’m still sitting here,” Whelan told CNN, saying he was disappointed he was left behind. His family said they were “devastated.”
Griner arrived in Texas early Friday morning, around 5:30am. She arrived at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston, Texas early Friday … and was taken to Brooke Army Medical Center for a routine evaluation,” a State Department official told CNN.
US officials said Griner was “in good spirits” and “incredibly gracious.”
The WNBA star was serving a nine-year prison sentence in a Russian penal colony that many reports called a labor camp. She was initially detained at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport after cannabis oil were found in her luggage. Griner acknowledged that the oils were in her luggage, but testified that she had no criminal intent. She pled guilty to narcotics possession and smuggling charges during her trial. Griner attempted to appeal her conviction, but it was denied by a Moscow Regional Court.
Griner called her situation “traumatic” when speaking to the court about how she was being kept away from her family. There were reports from her wife that she was not doing well in detention.
Griner’s lawyers also argued that the imposed sentencing was excessive and “absolutely unreasonable” in comparison to other similar cases that took place on Russian soil.
More on Griner’s conviction and the campaign to bring her home, HERE.