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The United States and Russia have exchanged imprisoned American basketball star Brittney Griner for notorious arms dealer Viktor Bout, who has been held in a US prison for 12 years.
President Joe Biden said Griner was safe and on a plane back from the United Arab Emirates.
“I’m happy to say Brittney is in good spirits…she needs time and space to recover,” he said at the White House.
Griner was arrested at a Moscow airport in February for possession of cannabis oil and sent to a penal colony last month. The Biden administration proposed a prisoner swap last July, aware that Moscow had long demanded Bout’s release.
The Russian Foreign Ministry confirmed the exchange and said it took place at Abu Dhabi airport. “The Russian citizen has been returned to his homeland,” the statement said, although he does not appear to have reached Russian soil yet.
Russian news agencies said he was still being flown to Vnukovo airport near Moscow.
In a speech from the Oval Office, Griner’s wife, Cherelle, praised the Biden administration’s efforts to secure his release: “I stand here overwhelmed with emotion.” The ordeal was one of the darkest times of her life, she added. A joint statement by Saudi Arabia and the UAE revealed that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, along with UAE President Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, has played a leading role in the mediation efforts.
When negotiations began over the summer to secure Griner’s release, the United States also made it clear that it also wanted to release former Marine Paul Whelan. But it became clear Whelan, who was jailed in 2018 on spying charges, would not take part in the Russian exchange, dashing his family’s hopes.
Eventually, President Biden signed off on the warrant for Bout’s release, converting his 25-year sentence into a direct exchange with Griner.
Viktor Bout has sold weapons to warlords and rogue governments and has become one of the most wanted men in the world. Dubbed the “dealer of the dealer” for arms smugglers in the years following the fall of the Soviet Union, the Russian inspired the 2005 Hollywood film Lord of War, which was loosely based on his life.
His mysterious career ended with an elaborate American stabbing in 2008 when he was arrested at a hotel in the Thai capital Bangkok, much to the chagrin of the Russian government.
He was extradited two years later and spent the last 12 years in a US prison for conspiring to support terrorists and kill Americans.

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Also read: Russian Court Dismisses Brittney Griner’s Appeal Against 9-Year Prison Sentence For Drug Trafficking

Bout’s circumstances could hardly be more different than those of his prisoner exchange counterpart.
Brittney Griner, 32, is one of America’s most famous athletes. During the US basketball season, the two-time Olympic champion is a star center for the Phoenix Mercury in the WNBA.
His only reason for flying to Moscow was to play in Russia during the off-season in the US. He told his Russian lawsuit that the cannabis oil found in his purse was an “honest mistake”.
In his tweet, President Biden posted a photo of the Oval Office next to Griner’s wife, Cherelle.
“I was just talking to Brittney Griner. She is safe. She’s on a plane. She’s on her way back,” he wrote. Shortly after, both went public in statements broadcast live on US television.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken highlighted the efforts of presidential envoy Roger Carstens, who accompanied Griner on the plane from the United Arab Emirates. American basketball figures hailed his release, including two-time WNBA champion Breanna Stewart of the Seattle Storm.

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