Speaking at the White House, Joe Biden formally announced the release of Brittney Griner from prison in Russia, where she’s been held for the past 10 months. Griner was exchanged for the convicted Russian arms dealer, Viktor Bout, a former K.G.B. officer, personal friend of Vladimir Putin and known as the "Merchant of Death."
“Moments ago, standing together with her wife Cherelle in the Oval Office, I spoke with Brittney Griner,” Biden said. “She’s safe, she’s on a plane, she’s on her way home after months of being unjustly detained in Russia, held under intolerable circumstances. Brittney will soon be back in the arms of her loved ones, and she should have been there all along.”
Biden thanked officials in his administration who worked for her release as well as the United Arab Emirates, “because that’s where she landed.”
Griner’s Wife Thanks Biden, Says She'll Work For More Prisoner Releases
"So over the last nine months, you all have been so privy to one of the darkest moments of my life, and so today I'm just standing here overwhelmed with emotions, but the most important emotion that I have right now is just sincere gratitude for President Biden and his entire administration," Cherelle Griner said at the White House Thursday morning.
"Today my family is whole, but as you are all aware, there are so many other families that are not whole," she added, referring to Americans still in Russian detention including former US Marine Paul Whelan, who many thought would be included in the Griner-Bout prisoner exchange.
Biden pledged he's continuing to work for Whelan's release.
"We've not forgotten about Paul Whalen, who has been unjustly detained in Russia for years. This was not a choice of which American to bring home. We brought home Trevor Reed when we had a chance earlier this year. Sadly, for totally illegitimate reasons, Russia is treating Paul's case differently than Brittney's," Biden said.
The Biden administration repeatedly made offers, including a visit by former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richarson to Moscow, to make Whelan part of the prisoner swap. “It was a choice to get Brittney or nothing,” a US official said, calling it a “difficult decision” for Biden but one he felt he had to make.
Griner, the two-time Olympic Gold Medalist who had been playing for the last seven years on a Russian basketball team, was arrested one week before Russia invaded Ukraine. She was later charged and sentenced to nine years in prison for possessing less than a gram of cannabis oil.
Watch Biden make the announcement with VP Harris and Cherelle Griner:
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