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Brittney Griner Released from Russian Detention

Brittney Griner Released from Russian Detention

The out WNBA star was released as part of a reported prisoner swap for convicted arms dealer Viktor Bout.


WNBA star Brittney Griner is free from the Russian penal system, according to U.S. officials.

Griner was released in a prisoner swap between the U.S. and Russia, as has been expected. In exchange, the U.S. released Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, known as the "merchant of death."

"Moments ago I spoke to Brittney Griner," President Biden tweeted Thursday morning with images of him and Griner's wife, Cherelle Griner, in the Oval Office. "She is safe. She is on a plane. She is on her way home.

Griner was initially detained in February by Russian authorities. It took weeks before her detainment was announced by the Russian Federal Customs Service. Griner was being detained for being in possession of small traces of hashish oil in vape cartridges found in her luggage. She was accused of "smuggling" drugs.

Griner was in Russia to play for UMMC Ekaterinburg, a team she has played for since 2016 to supplement her income from the WNBA. For her first season, she was reportedly paid a little less than $1 million, which was about four times the WNBA's max annual salary.

The U.S. government classified Griner's detention as wrongful detainment.

The athlete pled guilty to the drug charges and was convicted in August. She was sentenced to nine years of jail time. In November, her lawyers confirmed that she had been moved to a penal colony, where political prisoners are often exposed to harsh treatment, including forced labor and substandard meals and health care.

In early talks around the exchange, it was said that the deal could include veteran Marine Paul Whelan. He was arrested in 2018. Whelan is currently still in Russian custody, according to his lawyer. He was convicted on espionage charges.

Bout was arrested in 2008 and convicted in 2012 of conspiring to kill Americans, provide material support to a terrorist organization, and acquire and export anti-aircraft missiles. He was sentenced to 25 years. He has maintained his innocence.

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