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After 294 days — Brittney Griner is finally free.
, the WNBA star who was held for months in Russian prisons on drug charges, was released Thursday in a one-for-one prisoner swap for international arms dealer , according to a U.S. official.
On February 17, Griner was arrested at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport after less than one gram of cannabis oil was found in her luggage.
US officials: Russia frees WNBA player Brittney Griner in prisoner swap, with US releasing Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout. pic.twitter.com/JEsGaOfFiu
— ESPN (@espn) December 8, 2022
The one-for-one exchange agreement negotiated with Moscow in recent weeks was given final approval by President Biden within just the last week, according to sources.
The swap, first reported by CBS News, took place on Thursday in the United Arab Emirates. Five former U.S. officials told CBS News the agreement had been reached as of last Thursday.
A White House official said President Biden was in the Oval Office Thursday morning on the phone, speaking with Griner and her wife, and that Vice President Kamala Harris was also in the room. Per standard procedure for freed U.S. prisoners, Griner was expected to quickly undergo a medical evaluation.
— Front Office Sports (@FOS) December 8, 2022
To secure Griner’s release, the president ordered Bout to be freed and returned to Russia. Mr. Biden signed the commutation order cutting short Bout’s 25-year federal prison sentence.
After reportedly losing hope and feeling left behind, Griner will soon return back home after spending the better part of 2022 without access to the outside world.
A report last week revealed that the prison where Griner had been recently transferred was known for its inhumanity. After months of seemingly stalemated negotiation efforts, Griner is back home.
Moments ago I spoke to Brittney Griner.
She is safe.
She is on a plane.
She is on her way home. pic.twitter.com/FmHgfzrcDT
— President Biden (@POTUS) December 8, 2022
Now freed, Griner will return back to her life with a flock of supporters waiting with open arms after she narrowly escaped what had to be the most surreal experience of her life.
On Thursday morning, flanked by Brittney’s wife, Cherelle Griner, and Vice President Kamala Harris, President Biden reaffirmed at the White House, “We never forgot about Brittney. We’ve not forgot about Paul Whelan, whose been unjustly detained in Russia for years. This was not a choice of which American to bring home,” explained Biden.
Cherelle Griner on her wife Brittney Griner’s release: “Today my family is whole, but as you all are aware, there are so many other families who are not whole” https://t.co/evhwekAdSc pic.twitter.com/1ZK178hijP
— Shuja Ahmed Ch. (@iShujaAhmedCh) December 8, 2022
“We brought home Trevor Reed when we had a chance earlier this year, sadly, for totally illegitimate reasons, Russia has treated Paul’s case differently than Brittney’s, and while we have not yet succeeded in securing Paul’s release — we will not give up. We will never give up.”
Cherelle soon followed up, “The most important emotion that I have right now is sincere gratitude for President Biden and his entire administration.” She would go on to thank government officials who assisted in bringing Brittney back home.
Glad Brittney Griner will spend the holidays with her wife and family. Still outrageous what Russian govt put her through using her as a political pawn. Also unjust she had to work abroad in the first place to compensate for shitty wages women pro ball players get compared to men https://t.co/t4Az1OrIeW
— Uju Anya (@UjuAnya) December 8, 2022
Though Brittney is freed, Cherelle stated her family’s continued support for others fighting for their loved ones still wrongfully incarcerated abroad.
“BG and I will remain committed to the work of getting every American home, including Paul, whose family is in our hearts today as we celebrate BG being home. We do understand there are still people out here who are enduring what I endured the last nine months of missing, tremendously, their loved one.”
God is good! Brittney Griner is FREE! ??
— LaTosha Brown (@MsLaToshaBrown) December 8, 2022
“Today is just a happy day for me and my family so I’m going to smile right now,” Cherelle said before the news conference would conclude.
Though President Biden didn’t formally answer questions, he did remark to the assembled reporters that Brittney would return to the states within “24 hours.”
This story is developing.