U.S. authorities have released Russian international arms dealer Viktor Bout to complete the swap. WNBA athlete Griner had been jailed in Russia following her arrest at Moscow airport in February after cannabis-derived oil was found in her luggage. CBS News first reported that the deal had been completed Thursday, with Russia’s Foreign Ministry confirming the exchange to RIA Novosti. The ministry said the swap took place at Abu Dhabi airport in the United Arab Emirates.
In a tweet, President Joe Biden shared pictures of himself alongside Vice President Kamala Harris and Griner’s wife, Cherelle Griner, in the Oval Office. “Moments ago I spoke to Brittney Griner,” the post read. “She is safe. She is on a plane. She is on her way home.”
Griner is now expected to be given a medical check, as is standard procedure with freed American prisoners.
Arms dealer Bout, dubbed the “Merchant of Death,” had been serving a 25-year sentence given to him in 2012 after being convicted on terrorism charges. Biden signed the commutation order allowing his release in order to complete the prisoner swap, according to CBS.
The deal, which was reportedly agreed last Thursday, brings to an end months of diplomatic wrangling between the White House and the Kremlin. Griner’s arrest in February came at the same time that Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine, with the conflict creating tensions between the U.S. and Russia unseen since the Cold War.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in November that Griner had been convicted in a “sham trial” and criticized her “unjust and wrongful detention.” He added that officials were working “relentlessly” to bring her home along with former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, who is also detained in Russia on espionage charges and was not part of the deal.
While it’s not yet clear what broke the negotiating deadlock to secure Griner’s return, Biden’s administration at least made one concession by agreeing to make the deal a one-for-one swap, according to CBS.
This is a breaking story and will be updated.
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