US, Russia exchange jailed basketball star for arms dealer
Washington, December 9, 2022
In a major development, Washington and Moscow have conducted a prisoner swap, exchanging US basketball star Brittney Griner for convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, held in an American prison for 12 years.
Griner, the 32-year-old championship-winning player with the WNBA's Phoenix Mercury, who for years played for a Russian basketball team in the WNBA's off-seasons, had been held in the country since February after she was arrested on drug possession charges at a Moscow airport, reports CNN.
Meanwhile, Bout, popularly known as the "merchant of death", has reached Moscow, the Russian Foreign Ministry confirmed in a statement on Friday.
US President Joe Biden's administration had proposed a prisoner exchange in July, the BBC reported.
Thursday night's elaborate swap involved two private planes bringing Griner and Bout to Abu Dhabi airport from Moscow and Washington, and then flying them home.
Footage on Russian state media showed them crossing on the tarmac with their respective teams.
Speaking in the Oval Office, Griner's wife Cherelle praised the efforts of the Biden administration in securing her release and said: "I'm just standing here overwhelmed with emotions."
Also addressing the media at the Oval Office, President Biden said that "she's safe. She's on a plane. She's on her way home".
"After months of being unjustly detained in Russia, held under intolerable circumstances, Brittney will soon be back in the arms of her loved ones, and she should have been there all along.
"This is a day we've worked toward for a long time. We never stopped pushing for her release," he said.
Biden also thanked the United Arab Emirates (UAE) "for helping us facilitate Brittney's return".
"I'm glad to say Brittney's in good spirits... she needs time and space to recover," he added.