American basketball star Brittney Griner has returned to the US after being freed after a prisoner swap with convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, dubbed the “merchant of death” .
The 32-year-old WNBA star was flown to San Antonio, Texas.
Roger D. Carstens, special envoy to the President of the United States, said: “Glad that Britney is back on American soil. Welcome home BG!”
Ms Greener She was detained in February after customs agents said they found vaping canisters containing marijuana oil in luggage at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport.
She pleaded guilty at trial, saying her use of the cartridges to relieve pain from sports injuries was an “unintentional mistake”.
Nevertheless, Russian courts sentenced her to nine years in prison in august.
America president joe biden said Ms Greiner was being held in “intolerable circumstances” and endured “terrible ordeal”.
Ms Greener “represents the best of America,” he added.
President Biden insists America hasn’t forgotten Paul Whelana former U.S. Marine, remains in Russian custody.
A senior U.S. official said the government did everything it could to get Mr Whelan out, but “they treated him differently. They said he was a spy case. They said the choice was one of two.” [Griner] or not”.
He made no mention of the price the US paid for Ms Griner’s freedom – the release of convicted arms dealer Bout.
bout can go home now and he can take a public role
For some time now, Victor Bout has been at the top of the list of Russian citizens wishing to return home. In 2012, he was sentenced to 25 years in prison on arms-trading charges for selling Soviet-era weapons to insurgents, warlords and dictators for two decades.
The Taliban, Al Qaeda and Liberia’s Charles Taylor regime are reportedly on his client list.
His life was immortalized in the 2005 Hollywood film Lord of War starring Nicolas Cage. Russia has consistently declared his innocence and the charges against him fabricated.
Arms sales of this level often don’t happen without some sort of relationship with the Russian security services, which is probably why Russia was so keen to bring him home.
“Bout’s personality has been demonized,” Russian lawmaker Maria Butina told me in August, after the U.S. secretary of state said a deal was ready to bring Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan back. “I believe he’s like an evil Russian, a bogeyman to Americans,” she said.
Butina herself spent 15 months in US detention after being convicted of acting as an unregistered foreign agent. Now she has a seat in parliament.
Russia tends to offer public jobs to whomever the West wants. Don’t be surprised if Bout finally returns home now and finds himself in a similar role.
Ms Griner’s wife, Cherelle, said she was “overwhelmed” after experiencing “one of the darkest moments of my life”.
“So today my family is complete, but as you all know, there are many other families that are not complete.”
According to the Russian foreign ministry, the exchange between Greener and Bute took place at the Abu Dhabi airport.
“The Russian citizen has returned to his home country,” it said in a statement.
Pressure in Washington on Griner case
For nearly two decades, Bout was one of the world’s most notorious arms dealers, selling weapons to rogue states, rebel groups and murderous warlords in Africa, Asia and South America.
The Russian government has been keen to bring him back since his arrest in an elaborate U.S. sting.
President Biden agreed to release Bout, underscoring escalating pressure on his administration to bring Ms Griner home, especially after her criminal case was recently concluded subsequently transferred to exile.
Ms Griner’s detention widely condemned by activists including former NBA star Dennis Rodman, who says he plans to fly to Russia For the release of American basketball players.
The Texas-born athlete revealed her fears that she could go to jail “forever” in a letter to President Joe Biden on Fourth of July.
She wrote: “If I sat in a prison in Russia, thinking alone, without the protection of a wife, family, friends, Olympic jersey, or any achievement, I was terrified that I might stay here forever.
“On the Fourth of July, our family often honors those who fought for our freedom, including my father, a Vietnam Veteran.
“It hurts to think about how I usually celebrate this day because being free means something completely different to me this year.”