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US basketball star Brittney Griner was freed on Thursday in a US-Russia prisoner swap, the final diplomatic breakthrough more than nine months into the war between Russia and Ukraine.
In exchange for Gliner’s release, the US released Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, who was serving a 25-year sentence in prison.
President Joe Biden wrote on Twitter Thursday that he had spoken to Greiner. “She’s safe now. She’s on the plane. She’s on her way home,” he said. He included a photo of the basketball player’s wife, Cherelle Griner, in the Oval Office.
Previously, Brittney Griner was serving a nine-year sentence in a Russian prison. She was arrested at a Russian airport in February on charges she was carrying an e-cigarette pod containing cannabis oil.
U.S. officials have been pushing for her release for months, and this summer made a “substantial offer” to exchange Bout for Griner. Bout is known as the “merchant of death”.
Negotiations are understood to have intensified in recent weeks. The Biden administration has also been pressing Russia to release another imprisoned American, Paul Whelan, a former Marine who has been held by Russia since 2018 and was later convicted of espionage crime.
Bout was a notorious arms dealer who was partly based on the protagonist of the 2005 film “Lord of War.” He was serving a 25-year sentence for conspiring to kill a U.S. citizen and providing aid to a terrorist organization.
Whelan was not released as part of the deal. Russia tried to trade him for Vadim Krasikov, a former colonel in Russia’s spy service who was convicted of murder in Germany last year. According to Whelan’s family, he was recently hospitalized with the new coronavirus.