Russia released WNBA star Brittney Grenier in a high-profile prisoner exchange on Thursday, as the United States freed notorious Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.
The swap, at a time of heightened tensions over Ukraine, achieved a key goal of US President Joe Biden, but it came at a high cost — and left behind an American imprisoned for nearly four years in Russia, Paul Whelan, who also holds Canadian citizenship. . .
Biden tweeted a photo from the White House with Graner’s wife, Cheryl Greener, and then talked about the developments from the White House.
“Soon she will be back in the arms of her loved ones, and she should have been there the whole time,” Biden said.
Biden said Granner “felt good to finally be home” after talking to her on the phone.
She felt “overwhelmed,” Cheryl Greiner said, expressing her gratitude to White House and State Department officials.
hour | Biden praises Greener’s resilience and cracks down on Russia’s “show trial”:
In response to a candid journalist’s question, Biden said that Greiner should return to US soil within 24 hours.
“There hasn’t been a day in the past 10 months that we haven’t all had Brittney Griner on our minds and hearts, and that has now turned into a collective wave of joy and relief knowing that she will soon be reunited with her family, the WNBA community, and his friends,” Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said in a statement. BG has displayed extraordinary courage and dignity in the face of overwhelming adversity. »
Democratic Senator Dick Durbin praised the news and the administration’s efforts, adding in a tweet that “we can’t forget” Russians whom the US considers to be wrongfully imprisoned, and naming the dissidents. Vladimir Kara-Murza and Alexei Navalny.
Russia confirms the swap
The Russian Foreign Ministry also confirmed the exchange, saying in a statement carried by Russian news agencies that it took place in Abu Dhabi and that Bout was brought home.
Greener’s arrest in February made her one of the most famous Americans imprisoned abroad. Her status as an openly gay black woman, held in a country where authorities were hostile to the LBGTQ community, injected racial, gender and social dynamics into her legal proceedings.
Bout has been imprisoned in the United States since his conviction in a federal court in 2011 on various charges, including conspiracy to kill US citizens.
L’emprisonnement des Américains a conduit à une overture diplomatique rare, about issant au plus haut niveau de communication connu between Washington and Moscou – an appel telephonique between the secretaire d’État Antony Blinken and the Russian ministre des affaires étrangères Sergueï Lavrov – en plus de Five months.
Blinken revealed publicly in July that the United States had made a “substantial offer” to Russia for Greiner and Whelan. Although he did not specify the terms, people familiar with the matter said Bout was offered the United States.
This initiative aroused a terrible rebuke from the Russians, who said that they preferred to resolve these issues in private.
Greiner was arrested at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport in February when customs officers said they found packages of cannabis oil in her luggage. She pleaded guilty in July, though she is still on trial because an admission of guilt in the Russian justice system does not automatically end the case.
She admitted in court that she had the packages in her possession, but said she had no criminal intent and said their presence in her luggage was due to rush packing.
Before she was sentenced on August 4 and received a sentence that her lawyers said was unrelated to the crime, Greener emotionally apologized “for my mistake and the embarrassment I caused them.” And she continued: “I hope in your judgment that my life does not end.”
A few moments ago, I spoke to Brittney Griner.
That’s for sure.
She’s on a plane.
She is on her way back. pic.twitter.com/FmHgfzrcDT
The United States “do not give up” on Whelan
Whelan has been detained in Russia since December 2018. The US government has also classified him as being unjustly detained. He was sentenced in 2020 to 16 years in prison.
His brother, David Whelan, released a statement Thursday expressing his joy at Greener’s release.
As a family member of a Russian hostage, I can’t imagine the joy she’ll feel at being reunited with her loved ones, just in time for the holidays. There is no greater success than the release and return home of an illegal detainee. »
But he said that while he was prepared for the prospect of his brother staying in Russia, “our family is still a mess.”
Biden said he understands the “mixed feelings” of the Whelan family.
“We do not give up and we will never give up,” he said.
The release follows months of secret negotiations involving Bill Richardson, the former US ambassador to the United Nations and permanent envoy for hostage talks, and his first deputy, Mickey Bergman. The men have made several trips abroad over the past year to discuss exchange scenarios with Russian contacts.
“Make no mistake: this issue is not easy, negotiations are always difficult and there are no guarantees,” Biden said, without specifically addressing Boot. But my job as President of the United States is to make the hard decisions and protect American citizens everywhere. »
The Bute for Grenier prisoner swap is not a trade, it is an American surrender. This is not what American power looks like. Terrorists and rogue states smile.
By freeing Bout, the United States freed a former lieutenant colonel in the Soviet Army, once described by the Department of Justice as one of the world’s most prolific arms dealers. Bout was serving a 25-year prison sentence for conspiring to sell tens of millions of dollars worth of weapons that US officials said would be used against Americans.
John Bolton, who has served in several Republican administrations, most recently as national security adviser under President Donald Trump, called the quid pro quo an “American surrender.”
At an event in Washington, Republican Sen. Mitt Romney said he was disappointed that Whelan was still in office for the time being, but said it was “a symbol of our two countries” that Russia had asked to bring an arms dealer home.