Brittney Griner is coming home.
After being detained for 10 months in Russia, the WNBA star was freed Thursday in a high-profile prisoner exchange, the White House announced.
Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medalist and one of the most decorated out athletes ever, was arrested at an airport near Moscow in February when custom officials found vape cartridges containing small amounts of hashish in her luggage. She was convicted in August and sentenced to nine years in prison.
Last month, Griner was transferred to a Russian penal colony.
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
In exchange for Griner’s freedom, the U.S. agreed to release notorious Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, who was once nicknamed the “Merchant of Death.” The swap of Griner, who was imprisoned on minor drug possession charges, for an international arms dealer underscores the geopolitical tensions between the U.S. and Russia amidst the ongoing war in Ukraine.
U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, who’s been imprisoned in Russia since 2018 on false espionage charges, wasn’t part of the swap. Whelan’s brother said in a statement the Biden Administration gave their family an early warning that he wouldn’t be coming home.
“That early warning meant that our family has been able to mentally prepare for what is now a public disappointment for us. And a catastrophe for Paul,” said David Whelan, via NBC News.
David Whelan added the release of Griner was the “right decision.”
During Griner’s imprisonment, scores of WNBA stars, NBA stars and out athletes rallied for her release.
CBS News reports the Griner-for-Bout swap was negotiated last Thursday, but the White House requested they withhold reporting due to the fragility of the deal.
But now, Griner is free, and will be reunited with her wife, Cherelle, just in time for the holidays.