Brittney Griner Released From Russian Custody In Prison Swap

Jaelani Turner-Williams Jaelani Turner-Williams is a contributing news writer for Okayplayer with…
Photo Credit: Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP via Getty Images

WNBA player Brittney Griner has officially been released from a Russian penal colony in a high-profile prison swap between the US and Moscow.

Phoenix Mercury player Brittney Griner has safely returned to the U.S. in a high-profile prison swap negotiated by the Biden Administration. On Thursday (December 8), Griner was released from the Russian penal colony IK-2 in Yavas, in exchange for arms dealer Viktor Bout.

President Joe Biden signed off on the trade, which took place in the United Arab Emirates. According to a senior White House official, Griner’s wife, Cherelle Griner, was in the Oval Office with Biden as the two spoke to the WNBA player by phone. Biden is expected to announce the prison swap at 8:45 ET.

Griner’s return to the United States comes after a near yearlong saga of the WNBA player being held in Russia after she was arrested Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport. Russian officials said that Griner was carrying vape canisters with cannabis oil in her luggage and she was jailed on drug charges.

After her arrest, the 32-year-old woman became the subject of a possible prison exchange of both Griner and ex-Marine Paul Whelan. Whelan has been held in Russia since December 2018, and although the US government classified him as wrongfully detained, he was sentenced to 16 years in prison in 2020. Griner’s trial also highlighted tensions amid Russia’s war in Ukriane. A senior US official reported to NBC News that Whelan was also sought to be released as part of a swap with the Kremlin, which wanted the return of Bout, who’s served 11 years of a 25-year sentence in the states. The official added that Whelan was treated differently because he is an accused spy, with the Kremlin giving the White House the decision of either Griner or Whelan.

“I’m telling you, I am determined to get her home and get her home safely — along with others, I might add,” Biden said of Griner’s situation on November 9.

Griner’s trial neared its end in early August, when the 6-foot-9 Houston native was sentenced to 9 years in Russian prison. While in court, Griner apologized for “for my mistake that I made and the embarrassment that I brought on them.” She added, “I hope in your ruling it does not end my life.”

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