washington —The WNBA star, who spent months in a Russian prison on drug charges, was released Thursday in a one-on-one International arms dealers exchange prisoners ending an ordeal that sparked intense high-level negotiations between the United States and the Kremlin to secure her freedom.
“She’s safe. She’s on the plane. She’s on her way home,” President Biden said., to announce the exchange. “After months of being unjustly detained in Russia under intolerable circumstances, Britney will soon be back in the arms of her loved ones, where she should always have been. This is what we are working for A long day. We never stopped pushing for her release.”
CBS News was first to report the exchange took place in the United Arab Emirates, citing a U.S. official.The exchange deal negotiated with Moscow in recent weeks has received final approval from the Russian Federation gentlemen.Biden just Last week, according to a source familiar with the deal.
Five former U.S. officials told CBS News that the agreement reached or last Thursday.
The president said he spoke with Griner by phone from the Oval Office and was joined by Griner’s wife, Cherrell, Vice President Kamala Harris and Secretary of State Anthony Blinken. Greiner is expected to undergo a medical evaluation soon, as is standard procedure in the release of U.S. prisoners.
gentlemen. Biden said he was “pleased to be able to say that Britney is in good spirits” and that she was looking forward to returning home. The president dismissed “an open trial in Russia” that landed her in jail, saying “she didn’t ask for special treatment”.
To secure Griner’s release, the president ordered Bout’s release and his return to Russia. gentlemen. Biden signed a commutation order that shortened Bout’s 25-year federal prison sentence.
Notably, the Griner-for-Bout swap leaves retired US Marinesimprisoned in Russia. Whelan has been in Russian custody for nearly four years.Have America calls it false.
“We haven’t forgotten Paul Whelan,” Mr. Biden said on Thursday, adding that “we will never give up” securing his release. U.S. officials told reporters that it was clear in talks with the Russians that the prospect of releasing Griner and Whelan in exchange for Bout was not an option, with one official saying the U.S. “could choose to bring a particular American back home – Brittney Griner —or bring home nothing.”
Whelan told CNN by phone Thursday that he was glad Griner was released, but said he was “very disappointed that more was not done to secure my release, especially with the fourth anniversary of my arrest approaching.” occasion.”
WNBA Phoenix Mercury star center Greiner, 32, was detained at a Russian airport in February and later pleaded guilty to charges after a cartridge of marijuana-derived oil was found in his luggage. Griner said she didn’t want to take the cartridges with her when she traveled to the country during the WNBA offseason to play in the Russian basketball league.
After five months of diplomatic stagnation and various permutations of potential swap arrangements — including a previously unreported U.S. offer last summer to return two prisoners to Russia for the Americans — the sources said, One-to-one exchanges are in the last two weeks.
Whelan, a former corporate security contractor, was detained at a hotel in December 2018 while attending a friend’s wedding in Moscow. Russian authorities later sentenced him to 16 years in prison for espionage – charges the US and Whelan deny. This month marks the fourth anniversary of Whelan’s detention in Russia.
Bout, who was most recently held at a federal prison in Marion, Illinois, was arrested by the Thai Drug Enforcement Agency following a 2008 sting operation. He was convicted of conspiracy to kill an American and began serving a 25-year sentence a decade ago.
Griner’s arrest coincides with the start of February, and all U.S. dealings with the Kremlin are complicated by the conflict. The U.S. says both Griner and Whelan have been “mistakenly detained,” and officials suspect Russia has been using U.S. prisoners as leverage.
Greener’s return to Bout marks the Biden administration’s second prisoner swap with Russia. In April, the U.S. traded Russian smuggler Konstantin Yaroshenko, who was convicted of conspiring to import cocaine,a former U.S. Marine who was imprisoned in Russia for nearly three years.
CBS News learned last Thursday that a Griner-for-Bout deal was imminent, but agreed to a White House request to suspend reporting because officials expressed serious concerns about the fragility of the then-nascent deal.
Biden administration officials have warned that releasing details of the swap ahead of time would almost certainly lead to Russia’s withdrawal from the agreement and could jeopardize Greiner’s well-being.
Nancy Cordes, Ed O’Keefe, Sara Cook, Camilla Schick, Tucker Reals, Haley Ott, Melissa Quinn and Caitlin Yilek contributed to the report.