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The United States secured the release of WNBA star Brittney Griner, after weeks of negotiations with the Russians

Brittney Griner was first taken into Russian custody on February 17th after traveling to Russia to play overseas for Russian basketball team UMMC Ekaterinburg. Upon her arrival, airport officials inspected vape cartridges in her luggage and indicated it contained an illegal substance. Griner was subsequently tried and sentenced to 9 years in prison, serving the time most recently in a Russian penal colony. Griner spent approximately 293 days confined in Russia while the US worked to secure her release.

It was announced today that the United States was able to secure a prisoner exchange wherein Brittney Griner was traded for globally known war criminal, Victor Bout. Bout, known as “the Merchant of Death” was sentenced to 25 years in prison for conspiring to kill Americans.

On a call with senior Biden administration officials, they indicated that the Russians would only accept a 1 for 1 exchange, that being Griner for Bout. Many have questioned why the administration could not secure the release of Paul Whelan, another United States citizen held in Russia on espionage charges. Senior administration officials indicated that they “proposed multiple different exchange options. Regrettably, due to the sham espionage charges against Paul (Whelan), they treat his situation differently than Brittney and rejected each and every one of our proposals to secure his release. It was a choice in bringing home one particular American or bringing home none.” The officials went on to say “negotiations are often difficult in part because the price paid for an American’s freedom can be steep and the results can seem unfair or arbitrary. We are committed to see Paul Whelan’s release.” When pressed on whether the United States may have lost all their leverage by exchanging Bout for Griner, the senior official stated “if we had enough to bring Paul Whelan home, he would be home today. At this time, we don’t, or at least in the view of the Russians we don’t.”

At this moment, Brittney Griner is on a plane headed to her family in America. Many nations assisted in the facilitation of this exchange, with the exchange occurring in the United Arab Emirates. Senior Administration officials would not confirm the full details of how many countries were involved in the negotiations. They did advise that Griner was moved from the penal colony where she was serving her sentence, to Moscow in recent days. It was confirmed that in order to secure the release of Brittney Griner, the United States had to offer clemency to Viktor Bout “but the guilt of his conviction remains.” The United States government is “deeply relieved, gratified that we are bringing Brittney home to a family and team that love her.”

Justin Shealy