American basketball star Brittney Griner, who had been held in Russia for nine months, was released Thursday in a prisoner exchange along with Russian arms dealer Viktor Bode, who had been jailed in the United States for ten years.
The exchange took place at Abu Dhabi Airport on Thursday, the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a telegram.
Brittney Griner immediately boarded a plane to the United States, where she is expected within 24 hours.
“I spoke with Brittney Griner a few minutes ago. She is safe. She is on a plane. He’s going to America,” US President Joe Biden said during a brief speech at the White House.
“I also want to thank the United Arab Emirates for helping us free Britney,” Joe Biden added, adding that the sportswoman was in “good spirits” despite the “shock”.
His wife, Cherelle Griner, said she was “overwhelmed with emotion”: “My family is complete,” she added, expressing her “gratitude” for the Democratic administration.
Another American detained in Russia, ex-soldier Paul Whelan, was not included in the exchange. “Even if we fail to secure Paul’s release, we will never give up,” Joe Biden vowed.
In a statement, her family said they were ‘delighted’ for Ms Kreiner, but ‘still devastated’ to learn Paul Whelan is in Russian prison, the ‘fourth time’ the family will spend without him in the run-up to Christmas.
Arrested in Russia in December 2018, he was sentenced to 16 years in prison in 2020 for “espionage”, which he denounced as newly fabricated.
The 32-year-old African-American athlete, a two-time Olympic champion, was arrested in February at a Moscow airport with a vaporizer and liquid containing marijuana, banned in Russia.
He said it was therapy to relieve pain related to his intensive basketball training. But in August she was sentenced to nine years in prison.
After his appeal was rejected, he was transferred to a penal colony in Mordovia in central Russia in November.
His supporters have always condemned him as a hostage to negotiate with Washington amid the conflict in Ukraine.
The name Victor Bott was mentioned in the summer. The notorious Russian arms smuggler, arrested in Thailand in 2008, was sentenced to 25 years in prison in the United States.
Nicknamed the “Merchant of the Dead,” his extraordinary life inspired the movie “Lord of War,” in which Nicolas Cage played the notorious arms dealer.
The Americans and Russians accuse each other of detaining their respective nationals for political purposes. There have been several prisoner exchanges in the past.
In April, former US Marine Trevor Reed, who was sentenced to nine years in prison in Russia for violence he denies, was transferred to Russian pilot Konstantin Yaroshenko, who has been jailed in the US since 2010 for drug trafficking in connection with the Colombian FARC.