WNBA star Brittney Griner has been freed from Russian detainment, as President Joe Biden struck a prisoner swap deal for convicted arms dealer, Viktor Bout.
Biden announced the news at the White House on Dec. 8, alongside Griner’s wife, Cherelle. There, he shared that the basketball star is “safe” and “on the way home.”
“She’s safe, she’s on a plane, she’s on her way home,” the president happily announced. “After months of being unjustly detained in Russia, held under untolerable circumstances, Brittney will soon be back in the arms of her loved ones, and she should have been there all along.”
The swap reportedly didn’t include another American that the State Department declared wrongfully detained, Paul Whelan.
Biden recognized that Griner’s release was happening while Whelan has remained in prison, sharing that his family “have to have such mixed emotions today.”
“This was not a choice of which American to bring home. 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,” he said.
The two-time Olympic gold medalist had been making headlines since early 2022, as she was initially detained in February. At the time, customs agents at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport alleged that they found vape canisters containing cannabis oil in her luggage, News Onyx reported. Months later, she was sentenced to nine years in prison for drug possession, which prompted Biden to “call on Russia to release her immediately.” However, in October, the court denied her appeal and nearly a month later, she began serving her seemingly harsh sentence.
Thankfully, the 32-year-old WNBA star will finally be returning home to the U.S. in the “next 24 hours.” Biden said efforts to bring her back took “painstaking and intense negotiations” and thanked all the members of his administration who were involved.
“This is a day we’ve worked toward for a long time. We never stopped pushing for her release,” he said.
Griner’s wife also thanked the administration for assisting with securing her wife’s release from Russian detention, sharing that she was “overwhelmed with emotions.”