Moscow frees US basketball star in prisoner swap for arms dealer

Photo: Reuterse

Russia has freed American female basketball star Brittney Griner in a high-level prisoner exchange for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, the White House has confirmed.

In a separate statement following the announcement, Biden said Griner will need time to recover from the “trauma” of imprisonment in Russia. He said said is “in good spirits” but “experienced needless trauma”.

“She deserves space, privacy and time with her loved ones to recover and heal from her time being wrongfully detained,” he added.

Earlier, Biden posted on social media that he had spoken to Griner and that she is “on her way home”.

“She is safe. She is on a plane. She is on her way home,” Biden said in a tweet.

The Russian Foreign Ministry also confirmed the swap, saying in a statement carried by Russian news agencies that the exchange took place in Abu Dhabi and that Bout has been flown home.

In recent weeks Russian and American officials had conveyed cautious optimism after months of strained negotiations, with Biden saying in November that he was hopeful that Russia would engage in a deal now that the midterm elections were completed.

A top Russian official said last week that a deal was possible before year’s end.

US basketball star Brittney Griner has been released in a prisoner swap with Russia and is now in US custody, President Joe Biden said on Thursday.

“She is safe. She is on a plane. She is on her way home,” Biden said in a tweet.

Griner was detained in Russia in February after customs agents discovered vape canisters consisting of cannabis oil in her luggage at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport.

The 32-year-old, a two-time Olympic gold medallist, was later sentenced to nine years in prison on charges of possessing and smuggling drugs after pleading guilty but insisting she had made an “honest mistake” and not intended to break the law, Reuters reported.

Meanwhile, Bout, nicknamed “the merchant of death”, was one of the world’s most wanted men prior to his arrest as a notorious arms dealer who sold weapons to rogue states, rebel groups and murderous warlords in Africa, Asia and South America.

“On December 8, 2022, the procedure for the exchange of Russian citizen Viktor Bout for US citizen Brittney Griner, who were serving their sentences in correctional institutions of the United States of America and the Russian Federation, respectively, was successfully completed at Abu Dhabi Airport,” Russia’s foreign ministry said adding that “the Russian citizen has been returned to his homeland.”