Thursday, President Joe Biden celebrated WNBA star Brittney Griner being released from a Russian prison. Due to a swap with the so-called “Merchant of Death” and arms dealer Viktor Bout.
In a tweet, the President wrote, “Moments ago I spoke to Brittney Griner. She is safe. She is on a plane. She is on her way home.” It was not immediately clear when the two were first released.
In February, Griner was arrested at a Moscow Airport. She admitted to having vape canisters that had cannabis oil in her luggage. She pleaded guilty to drug possession charges in July. In August, a Russian court sentenced her to nine years in prison. In November, authorities moved her to a penal colony. At that point, her lawyers said they lost contact with Griner.
Bout is a former Soviet military commander and known arms dealer. His life inspired the film The Notorious Mr. Bout.
Griner, who is African-American and openly gay, won instant support for her release around the world. Many were worried about her human rights and safety while in jail and prison. Many on social media protested how long it took for her to be released. U.S. State Department Secretary Antony Blinken said her conviction “further compounds the injustice of her wrongful detention.” He added, “We will also continue to press for fair and transparent treatment for all U.S. citizen detainees in Russia.” The arrest, detention, and conviction came in the first year of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which damaged U.S. relations with Russia.
Left behind is Paul Whelan, a former U.S. Marine convicted of spying on Russia. In 2018, he was sentenced to 16 years in a Russian prison. His family says the accusations are baseless. Thursday, Whelan’s supporters instantly denounced the failure to gain his release accusing the U.S. of leaving behind a lesser-known citizen held illegally.