WNBA player Brittney Griner, who was detained at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport and later charged with illegal possession of cannabis, holds up a photo of her team as she stands inside the defendants’ cage ahead of a court hearing. in Khimki, on the outskirts of Moscow, on August 4. Evgenia Novozhenina/Pool/AFP via Getty Images hide caption
toggle title Evgenia Novozhenina/Pool/AFP via Getty Images
WNBA player Brittney Griner, who was detained at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport and later charged with illegal possession of cannabis, holds up a photo of her team as she stands inside the defendants’ cage ahead of a court hearing. in Khimki, on the outskirts of Moscow, on August 4.
Evgenia Novozhenina/Pool/AFP via Getty Images
President Biden says WNBA star Brittney Griner has been released from a Russian prison.
Standing with Griner’s wife, Cherelle Griner, at the White House, Biden said it was a day “we worked a long time.”
“You are safe. He is on a plane. She is on her way home after months of being wrongfully detained in Russia, held in intolerable conditions,” Biden said from the Roosevelt Room.
Biden spoke to Griner from the Oval Office just before making the announcement. He said that he was in a good mood, but that he was experiencing “trauma” and that he would need time to heal.
“Brittney will soon be back in the arms of her loved ones and she should have been there the whole time,” Biden said.
The Russian Foreign Ministry confirmed in a press release on Thursday that Griner was exchanged at Abu Dhabi airport for convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.
“As a result of intensive efforts, we managed to agree with the US side to organize an exchange of Bout for Griner,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement. “The Russian citizen has been returned to his homeland.”
The exchange did not include former US Marine Paul Whelan, who remains jailed in Russia on espionage charges the US says are false.
“While we have not yet been able to secure Paul’s release, we are not giving up,” Biden said Thursday. “We never give up.”
Cherelle Griner said she was overwhelmed with emotions and expressed her gratitude to Biden, Vice President Harris and other members of the administration involved in securing his wife’s release. She thanked the WNBA, Griner’s agent and others.
“BG and I will remain committed to making a home for all Americans, including Paul,” he said.
Griner’s arrest had been a priority for Biden and his administration. In July, she sent him a handwritten letter that read: “I’m terrified to be here forever.” The president was under increasing pressure to secure Griner’s release. She said last month that he hoped Russian President Vladimir Putin would be more willing to discuss a prisoner swap after the US midterm election ended.
Griner, who plays for the Phoenix Mercury, is a seven-time WNBA All-Star, a two-time Olympic gold medalist and the first openly gay athlete signed to a Nike endorsement deal. She also played for the Russian UMMC Ekaterinburg basketball team during the WNBA off-season.
She was sentenced last August by a Russian court to nine years in prison for bringing less than a gram of hashish oil into Russia when she arrived in February this year to play in the Russian women’s professional basketball league. Last month, she was transferred to a penal colony in Mordovia, 300 miles southeast of Moscow, to begin serving her sentence.
In court, Griner admitted to mistakenly packing two vape cartridges in his rush to pack his luggage, but provided documents showing his US doctor legally prescribed the hash oil for pain control.
Griner leaves the courtroom after the verdict of the court in Khimki, on the outskirts of Moscow, on August 4. Kirill Kudryatsev/AFP via Getty Images hide caption
toggle title Kirill Kudryatsev/AFP via Getty Images
Griner leaves the courtroom after the verdict of the court in Khimki, on the outskirts of Moscow, on August 4.
Kirill Kudryatsev/AFP via Getty Images
The US government had labeled Griner “wrongfully detained” and sought a prisoner exchange with Russia involving Griner and Whelan. The White House said it made a “substantial offer” over the summer, widely reported to involve a suggested trade of Bout, for Griner and Whelan.
Biden said his team continues to work for the release of Paul Whelan.
“Unfortunately, for totally illegitimate reasons, Russia is treating Paul’s case differently than Brittney’s,” Biden said.
This is an ongoing story and will be updated.
Ayana Archie contributed to this report