DEVELOPING STORY: Russia freed WNBA star Brittney Griner on Thursday in a dramatic high-level prisoner exchange, with the notorious Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout – known as the Merchant of Death.
Griner notoriously refused to stand for the national anthem during WNBA games.
President Biden issued the following statement:
I spoke with Brittney Griner. 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.
This is a day we’ve worked toward for a long time. We never stopped pushing for her release. It took painstaking and intense negotiations. And I want to thank all the hardworking public servants across my administration who worked tirelessly to secure our release. I also want to thank the UAE for helping us facilitate Britney’s return, because that’s where she landed.
These past few months have been hell for Britney and for Charllee (Cherelle) and her entire family and all teammates back home. People all across the country have learned about Britney’s story, advocated for her release, stood with her through throughout this terrible ordeal. And I know that support meant a lot to her family. I’m glad to be able to say that Britney is in good spirits. She relieved to finally be heading home.
And the fact remains that she’s lost months of her life, experienced a needless trauma. She deserves space, privacy and time with her loved ones to recover and heal from her time being wrongfully detained. Britney is an incomparable athlete, a two time Olympic gold medalist for Team USA. She endured mistreatment and showed attitude at a show trial in Russia with characteristic grit and incredible dignity. She represents the best America and best about America. It is across the board, everything about her.
She wrote to me back in July. She didn’t ask for special treatment, even though we’ve been working on a release from day one. She requested a simple quote. “Please don’t forget about me and the other American detainees. Please do all you can to bring us home.” We never forgot about Britney.
We’ve not forgotten about Paul Whelan, 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 Britney’s. And while we have not yet succeeded in securing Paul’s release, we are not giving up. We will never give up.
We remain in close touch with Paul’s family, the Whelan family, and my thoughts and prayers are with them today, they have to have such mixed emotions today. And we’ll keep negotiating in good faith for Paul’s release. I guarantee that. I say that to the family. I guarantee you. I urge Russia to do the same to ensure that Paul’s health and and humane treatment and are maintained until we can able to bring him home.
The swap, at a time of heightened tensions over Ukraine, achieved a top goal for President Joe Biden, but carried a heavy price – and left behind an American jailed for nearly four years in Russia.
The deal, the second such exchange in eight months with Russia, procured the release of the most prominent American detained abroad. Griner is a two-time Olympic gold medalist whose monthslong imprisonment on drug charges brought unprecedented attention to the population of wrongful detainees.
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