Russia frees Brittney Griner. Biden: “He’s fine, come home”

Prisoner exchange at Abu Dhabi airport: Russian arms dealer Bout released by the US, who has already returned to his homeland

Brittney GrinerAmerican basketball star of the WNBA, was freed by Russia in a prisoner swap involving Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, as anticipated by CNN. Bout was serving a 25-year prison sentence in the United States. Griner, who has been playing in Russia for 4 years during the WNBA break, was arrested in February on drug trafficking charges as she was at the airport preparing to leave the country. Griner, according to CNN, is in American custody. “I spoke to her a while ago. He’s fine, he’s on a plane and he’s on his way home,” US President Joe Biden wrote on Twitter, at the White House with the wife of the basketball player, Cherelle Griner, after the news of his release. Biden then thanked the UAE for helping the US “facilitate” the prisoner exchange.

The Russian arms dealer Bout, meanwhile reports the Ria Novosti agency quoting the Foreign Ministry, has returned to his homeland after the exchange that took place today at Abu Dhabi airport.

The release of Brittney Griner in exchange for Viktor Bout took place thanks to the joint mediation of the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia: the foreign ministries of Abu Dhabi and Riyadh announced it in a statement, which states that the successful of mediation efforts is a reflection of the “mutual and solid friendship that binds both countries to the United States of America and the Russian Federation”. In his statement from the White House, President Joe Biden mentioned only the Emirates.

The ongoing negotiations between the United States and Russia for a prisoner exchange also included former US Marine Paul Whelan who instead, as confirmed by his lawyer following the announcement of Griner’s release, is still in prison in Russia. But talks for his release are continuing, he added. Whelan was sentenced to 16 years in prison in Russia in 2020 for espionage.

“We have not forgotten Paul Whelan. A choice has not been made of who to take home,” President Biden then said. “For unexplainable reasons, Russia treats Whelan’s case differently. But we don’t give up. We never will,” he added, anticipating that the US will continue to negotiate for Paul’s release.

Meanwhile, the Whelan family expresses joy at Griner’s release, but does not hide that they are “devastated” by Paul’s failure to return home as well. “I can even imagine how Paul will feel when he hears about this. Paul worked so hard to survive almost four years of this injustice already. His hopes were raised when he learned that the US government was taking concrete steps towards his release He wondered where he was going to live when he returned. Now what? How will he continue to survive, day after day, when you know your government has twice failed to free you from a foreign prison?” wrote David Whelan Paul’s brother.