Brittney Griner released by Russia in 1-for-1 prisoner swap for arms dealer Viktor Bout

Brittany GrinerThe WNBA star who was held for months in a Russian prison on drug charges was released on Thursday in a one-on-one A prisoner exchange for an international arms dealer Victor Bott, CBS News learned early Thursday from a US official. The one-for-one exchange agreement that was negotiated with Moscow in recent weeks has received final approval from me President Biden in just Last week, according to sources familiar with the deal. The exchange, first reported by CBS News, took place Thursday in the United Arab Emirates.

Five former US officials told CBS News of the agreement have been achieved as of today Last Thursday.

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A White House official said the president spoke with Brittany Griner by phone. The conversation took place in the Oval Office, where the President was joined by Cheryl Griner, Vice President Kamala Harris and Secretary of State Anthony Blinken. According to standard procedure for released American prisoners, Griner was expected to quickly undergo a medical evaluation.

President Biden speaks at the White House about the prisoner exchange that resulted in the release of Brittany Griner. You can watch his talk live in the player at the top of this page.

“She’s safe. She’s on a plane. She’s on her way home,” Mr. Biden said in a tweet, which included several photos of himself in the Oval Office with Cheryl Griner.

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Speaking shortly after Griner was released, Mr. Biden said at the White House that he was “happy to be able to say that Britney is in good spirits” and that she was looking forward to coming home. The president rejected the “show trial in Russia” that put her in prison, saying “she did not ask for special treatment.”

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To secure Griner’s release, the president ordered Bout released and returned to Russia. Mr. Biden signed the recall order to shorten Butt’s 25-year federal prison sentence.

It should be noted, the Greener-Bout exchange leaves retired US Marines Paul Whelan Imprisoned in Russia. Whelan has been in Russian custody for almost four years. he Convicted of espionage which the US called a lie.

“We have not forgotten Paul Whelan,” Mr. Biden said on Thursday, adding “we will never give up” on the promise of his release.

President Biden met with the families of Brittany Griner and Paul Whelan


Griner was arrested at a Russian airport in February and later pleaded guilty to charges stemming from the discovery of cannabis-derived oil cartridges in her luggage.

After five months of stalled diplomacy and various permutations of potential exchange arrangements — including a previously unreported offer by the U.S. last summer to send two prisoners back to Russia for the two Americans — sources say the one-for-one exchange came together over the past two weeks.

It remains unclear what led to the breakthrough, but the Biden administration made at least one concession when it agreed to reduce the exchange to one American for one Russian.

In late November, the State Department blasted the Russian government for failing to bargain in good faith. Recently, on Sunday, on CBS News “Face the nationSecretary of State Anthony Blinken said US negotiators were “actively engaged” with their Russian counterparts.

Blinken says the US remains “actively in touch” with Russia about a possible prisoner exchange


Asked by CBS News about reports of Russia’s desire for a one-for-one swap despite America’s hopes of returning both Griner and Whelan, Blinken said any deal would be subject to mutual agreement.

“The other side gets a vote on this. It’s not just what we want. It’s what they’re willing to do,” Blinken said, without denying the Russian reports. However, he noted that the administration continues to push for the return of the two Americans.

“One way or another, one day or another, we’re going to see this through,” he said.

In July, the Biden administration said it had offered the Kremlin what it described as a “significant offer” to bring the two American prisoners home. The White House has never publicly confirmed what the U.S. offered, but privately, officials told CBS News that initial reports indicating the potential for Bout’s release were incorrect, and that the president was willing to consider allowing two Russian prisoners to return in exchange. For Griner’s freedom and of Whelan.

Whelan, who once worked as a corporate security contractor, was in Moscow for a friend’s wedding when he was detained at a hotel in December 2018. Russian authorities later sentenced him to 16 years in prison for espionage – a charge the US and Whelan denied. This month marks the fourth anniversary of Whelan’s time in Russian custody.

Bott, most recently held in a federal prison in Marion, Illinois, was arrested by the Drug Enforcement Agency in Thailand following a sting operation in 2008. He was convicted of conspiring to kill Americans and began his 25-year sentence a decade ago. .

Victor Bott (2010) | Archive 60 Minutes


Before his arrest, Bout was accused by the United Nations of arming Liberian President Charles Taylor during the brutal civil war in Sierra Leone. He was the inspiration for Nicolas Cage’s character in the movie Lord of War. Bout’s release is sure to draw criticism from some DEA agents. who followed and arrested him.

Griner’s arrest coincided with the start of Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine in February, and the entire US relationship with the Kremlin has been complicated by that conflict. The US said both Griner and Whelan were “accidentally arrested”, and officials suspected Russia of using the prisoners The Americans as leverage.

Griner’s return to Baut marks the Biden administration’s second prisoner exchange with Russia. In April, the U.S. traded Konstantin Yarushenko, a Russian smuggler convicted of conspiring to import cocaine, for Trevor Reid. The former US Marine was imprisoned in Russia for almost three years.

American freed in prisoner exchange discusses life in Russian prison


CBS News learned last Thursday that a trade between Griner and Bout was imminent, but agreed to the White House’s request to withhold the report because officials expressed serious concern about the fragility of the then-drafted deal.

Biden administration officials warned that releasing details of the exchanges to the public would almost certainly lead Russia to withdraw from the agreement and could endanger Griner’s safety.

Nancy Cordes, Ed O’Keefe, Sarah Cook, Camila Schick, Tucker Reales and Haley Ott contributed reporting.


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