WNBA star Brittney Griner landed at Kelly Field in San Antonio, Texas on Friday after being released from a Russian penal colony through a one-for-one prisoner swap for convicted arms dealer Viktor Bout. Griner had been sentenced to nine years in prison on drug charges in August.
The exchange took place on Thursday in the United Arab Emirates after President Biden gave final approval of the swap following weeks of negotiations. According to CBS News, the United States and Russia agreed on the swap on Dec. 1.
The White House confirmed the exchange in a tweet and added that Griner spoke to Biden via phone on Thursday.
Moments ago I spoke to Brittney Griner.— President Biden (@POTUS) December 8, 2022
She is safe.
She is on a plane.
She is on her way home. pic.twitter.com/FmHgfzrcDT
White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby did not comment on Griner's health to respect her privacy, but she will be flown to a medical facility in San Antonio to receive a medical evaluation, as reported by CNBC. Her wife, Cherelle Griner, will meet her there.
Speaking at the White House shortly after talking to Griner, Biden said he was "glad to be able to say Brittney is in good spirits."
Griner had been in Russian custody since being detained on Feb. 17 at Sheremetyevo International Airport, when the Russian Federal Customs Service found vape cartridges containing the marijuana concentrate hashish oil in her luggage. She was sentenced to nine-and-a-half years in prison in August after being found guilty on drug charges in Russian court.
The Griner-Bout exchange does mean that retired U.S. Marine Paul Whelan is still being imprisoned in Russia. Whelan's name had been mentioned in potential swaps including Griner and Bout earlier in the year. Whelan has been in Russian custody for nearly four years after being convicted on espionage charges that the U.S. has called false.
"We've not forgotten about Paul Whelan," Biden said Thursday, noting that "we will never give up" on his release.
According to CNN, the Biden administration "repeatedly made offers to get Whelan as part of this deal - even after Russia made clear only Griner was acceptable."
"It was a choice to get Brittney or nothing," a US official told CNN.
Bout, who also goes by the name "The Merchant of Death" was most recently held at a federal prison in Illinois. He was arrested by the United States Drug Enforcement Agency back in 2008 during a sting operation in Thailand. He was then convicted of planning to kill Americans and sentenced to 25 years in prison, a sentence he began serving 10 years ago.