World

Update: Russian state media releases footage of the Brittney Griner and Viktor Bout prisoner swap

Brittney Griner, the WNBA star who was held for months in Russian prisons on drug charges, was released Thursday in a one-for-one prisoner swap for international arms dealer Viktor Bout, according to a U.S. official. The one-for-one exchange agreement negotiated with Moscow in recent weeks was given final approval by President Biden within just the last week, according to sources familiar with the deal. The swap, first reported by CBS News, took place on Thursday in the United Arab Emirates.

Five former U.S. officials told CBS News the agreement had been reached as of last Thursday.

A White House official said President Biden was in the Oval Office Thursday morning on the phone, speaking with Griner and her wife, and that Vice President Kamala Harris was also in the room. Per standard procedure for freed U.S. prisoners, Griner was expected to quickly undergo a medical evaluation.

President Biden is expected to speak at 8:30 a.m. Eastern at the White House about the prisoner swap that saw Brittney Griner released. You will be able to watch his remarks live in the player at the top of this page.

To secure Griner’s release, the president ordered Bout to be freed and returned to Russia. Mr. Biden signed the commutation order cutting short Bout’s 25-year federal prison sentence.

Notably, the Griner-for-Bout exchange leaves retired U.S. Marine Paul Whelan imprisoned in Russia. Whelan has been in Russian custody for nearly four years. He was convicted on espionage charges that the U.S. has called false.

Griner was detained at a Russian airport in February and later pleaded guilty to charges stemming from the discovery of cannabis-derived oil cartridges in her luggage.

After five months of stalled diplomacy and various permutations of potential swap arrangements — including a previously unreported offer by the U.S. this past summer to send two prisoners back to Russia for the two Americans — sources say the one-for-one exchange came together over the last two weeks.

Russia frees WNBA star Brittney Griner in prisoner swap, with U.S. releasing Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout. Brittney is finally coming home.

It remains unclear what led to the breakthrough, but the Biden administration made at least one concession by agreeing to reduce the swap to one American for one Russian.

At the end of November, the State Department blasted the Russian government for a failure to bargain in good faith. As recently as Sunday, on CBS News “Face the Nation,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said U.S. negotiators were “actively engaged” with their Russian counterparts.

Asked by CBS News about reports of Russia’s desire for a one-for-one swap in spite of America’s hopes to return both Griner and Whelan, Blinken noted that any deal would be subject to mutual agreement.

“The other side gets a vote in this. It’s not just what we want. It’s what they’re prepared to do,” Blinken said, without denying the Russian reports. However, he indicated the administration was continuing to push for the return of both Americans.

“One way or another, one day or another, we’re going to see that through,” he said.

In July, the Biden administration said it had offered the Kremlin what it described as a “significant proposal” to bring both American prisoners home. The White House never publicly confirmed what the U.S. had offered, but privately, officials indicated to CBS News that initial news reports pointing to the potential for only Bout’s release were incorrect, and that the president was prepared to consider letting two Russian prisoners return in exchange for both Griner and Whelan’s freedom.

Whelan, who once worked as a corporate security contractor, was in Moscow for a friend’s wedding when he was detained at a hotel in December 2018. Russian authorities later sentenced him to 16 years in prison for espionage — a charge the U.S. and Whelan denied. This month marks the fourth anniversary of Whelan’s time in Russian custody.

Griner is now in the custody of American officials, a US official told CNN. President Joe Biden is expected to speak at 8:30 a.m. ET, the White House said, though it did not immediately specify the topic.

The swap did not include another American that the State Department has declared wrongfully detained, Paul Whelan.

Griner was arrested at a Moscow airport in February for possessing cannabis oil and last month sent to a penal colony.

By the summer the Biden administration had proposed a prisoner exchange, aware Moscow had long sought Bout’s release.

Viktor Bout sold arms to warlords and rogue governments, becoming one of the world’s most wanted men.

Dubbed the “merchant of death” for gun-running in the years after the fall of the Soviet Union, the Russian’s exploits inspired the 2005 Hollywood film Lord of War, which was loosely based on his life.

His secretive career was brought to an end by an elaborate US sting in 2008, when he was arrested at a hotel in the Thai capital Bangkok, to the anger of the Russian government.

He was extradited two years later and has spent the past 12 years languishing in an American jail for conspiring to support terrorists and kill Americans.

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Jasper Chinedu
Jasper Chinedu (Sparobanks) is a Computer Program with over 5 years experience. He holds a Higher National Deploma in Computer Science from the Federal Polytechnic Nekede, Owerri. He has built lots of Mobile APPS, Website of all kind, including this Website. Jasper is a Chief Editor and Webmaster at THETALK.NG. Email: [email protected]