WNBA star Brittney Griner is free Thursday after the Biden administration negotiated her release from a Russian penal colony in exchange for an arms dealer, according to a senior administration official.
President Joe Biden signed off on the trade, which took place in the United Arab Emirates, even though it meant leaving behind Paul Whelan, an American corporate security executive who remains jailed in Russia.
Brittney Griner’s wife, Cherelle Griner, was in the Oval Office with Biden and the two were able to speak with her by phone, according to a senior White House official.
Biden is expected to give remarks at 8:45 a.m. ET.
The move marks one of the most high-profile prisoner swaps between Moscow and Washington since the Cold War, with the Kremlin seeing the return of Viktor Bout, who Russian President Vladimir Putin has been wanting to get back — and who had served 11 years of a 25-year sentence in the United States.
Griner’s return to the United States will cap a monthslong saga that began in February when she was detained at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport after Russian authorities said they found vape canisters with cannabis oil in her luggage. She was later jailed on drug charges.
The 32-year-old Phoenix Mercury player was the subject of prolonged and often public negotiations between the two countries after a trial that underscored frayed relations amid Russia’s war in Ukraine. Biden’s administration had sought the release of both Griner and Whelan.
“I’m telling you, I am determined to get her home and get her home safely — along with others, I might add,” Biden said of the situation on Nov. 9.