Russia has released jailed WNBA star Brittney Griner in exchange for notorious arms dealer Viktor Bout, known as the “Merchant of Death” after months of negotiations and hostility on both sides.
The prisoner swap will bring Griner home to the U.S. after she was apprehended in Moscow earlier this year and sentenced to 9 years in a Russian penal colony in August, fulfilling a Biden administration priority. Earlier leaks from the administration suggested the U.S. sought to include former Marine Paul Whelan, detained in Russia since 2021, in the exchange for Bout, but he will remain incarcerated in Russia, according to The Associated Press.
Authorities in Moscow arrested Griner on Feb. 17 after she attempted to leave the country with marijuana, which her lawyers claimed she used for medicinal purposes but is banned in Russia.
Griner pleaded guilty to charges of drug possession and smuggling in July, but denied malicious intent, according to Reuters.
However, she has attested that she inadvertently left the vape canisters containing the medical marijuana product in her luggage, CBS News reported.
“I’d like to plead guilty, your honor. But there was no intent. I didn’t want to break the law,” Griner told the court, Reuters reported.
Moments ago I spoke to Brittney Griner.
She is safe.
She is on a plane.
She is on her way home. pic.twitter.com/FmHgfzrcDT
— President Biden (@POTUS) December 8, 2022
The Biden administration reportedly offered to trade notorious arms dealer Viktor Bout in exchange for Griner’s freedom along with that of former Marine Paul Whelan in August, but the White House claimed it did not receive a positive response to the proposal from Russia, CBS News reported. Russia slammed the U.S. for disclosing the potential negotiations and said it would pursue the route of “quiet diplomacy.”
The State Department did not immediately respond to the Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment.
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