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Brittney Griner: WNBA star arrives at US hospital after being released by Russia in prisoner swap

The WNBA star was detained at a Russian airport in February

Johanna Chisholm,Shweta Sharma,Rachel Sharp
Saturday 10 December 2022 15:38 GMT
Brittney Griner back on US soil after spending 294 days in Russian prison

Brittney Griner has returned to US soil for the first time in 10 months after she was released from Russian custody in a prisoner swap with “Merchant of Death” Viktor Bout.

The WNBA star arrived at the Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio early on 9 December for examination and any additional medical treatment.

Footage showed Ms Griner and Bout being exchanged on the tarmac of a runway in the United Arab Emirates on 8 December following weeks of negotiations between Washington DC and Moscow.

The deal failed to include US Marine Paul Whelan, who has been detained in Russia for the last four years. Mr Whelan told CNN he was “greatly disappointed” to learn he was not part of the prisoner swap, saying: “I don’t understand why I’m still sitting here.”

President Joe Biden insisted that “we’ve not forgotten about Paul Whelan” and vowed to “never give up” securing his release, as the swap divided opinion across the country. The White House was also forced to deny claims made by Saudi Arabia and the UAE that Mohammed bin Salman negotiated the deal.


Trump turned down Paul Whelan and Viktor Bout prisoner swap years ago, John Bolton says

Trump turned down Paul Whelan and Viktor Bout prisoner swap years ago, John Bolton says

Former National Security Adviser John Bolton has revealed that Donald Trump turned down the chance to secure Paul Whelan’s release years ago – despite the former president claiming to be outraged over the Biden administration’s deal which freed Brittney Griner but left the US marine still in Russian custody.

Mr Bolton, who was the national security adviser under Mr Trump for 17 months from 2018 to 2019, told CBS that the Trump administration had the opportunity to trade Mr Whelan for convicted arms dealer Viktor Bout in 2018.

“The possibility of a Bout-for-Whelan trade existed back then and it wasn’t made, for very good reasons having to deal with Viktor Bout,” he said.

Mr Whelan, a US, Canadian, British and Irish citizen who served in the US Marines from 2003 to 2008, was arrested in Russia in December 2018.

The Independent’s Rachel Sharp has the full story:

Trump ‘turned down Paul Whelan and Viktor Bout prisoner swap years ago’

Mr Trump blasted the Biden administration’s deal on his Truth Social platform – despite refusing to take action to try to free Mr Whelan for two years of his own presidency

Rachel Sharp10 December 2022 11:00

Steph Curry’s full Brittney Griner message during SI Sportsperson of the Year awards

NBA star Steph Curry won Sports Illustrated’s Sportsperson of the Year award during a ceremony on Thursday, and during his acceptance speech addressed the release of former WNBA star Brittney Griner.

Mr Curry was a major advocate for Griner while she was in prison.

“We are glad she’s home, we’re glad she’s reunited with her family,” Mr Curry said. “It’s a constant reminder for everybody continuing to use their platforms to speak on issues that are meaningful and can move the needle. Thank you to President Biden’s administration for being a part of that fight. But, it’s also a reminder that we all need to stay engaged in the fight to protect American citizens at home and abroad who are wrongfully detained, and we can continue to be engaged in that fight. BG, we love you. We thank you for your sacrifice and your continued perseverance and patience to get through this process, and hope you enjoy reuniting with your family. We are always with you, BG.”

Graig Graziosi10 December 2022 09:00

Saudi Arabia and UAE claim they helped free Brittney Griner

Saudi Arabia’s controversial crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, and the president of the UAE, have claimed they led the mediation efforts that led to the release of basketball star Brittney Griner.

As Joe Biden told the world that Ms Griner had been releaed from Russia after 10 months of detention, in exchange for the return to Moscow of convicted arms dealer Viktor Bout, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) claimed it had played a role in the negotiations that led to the swap.

Ms Griner, 32, arrived in the United Arab Emirates capital Abu Dhabi by private plane from Moscow after her release by Russian authorities, a joint statement said.

At the same time, Mr Bout, a former arms dealer, came in on another private plane from Washington after being released by US authorities.

Andrew Buncombe has more.

Saudi’s MBS and UAE ‘led mediation in Brittney Griner’s release’

Separate planes carrying Brittney Griner and Viktor Bout both landed at Abu Dhabi’s Al Bateen airport

Rachel Sharp10 December 2022 07:00

‘Devastated’ family of American prisoner Paul Whelan backs Griner deal

‘Devastated’ family of American prisoner Paul Whelan backs Griner deal

The family of an American detained in Russia for nearly four years said Thursday that the Biden administration “made the right decision” in agreeing to a prisoner exchange that freed WNBA star Brittney Griner but they are “devastated” that Paul Whelan remains behind.

“As the family member of a Russian hostage, I can literally only imagine the joy she will have, being reunited with her loved ones, and in time for the holidays,” David Whelan, Paul’s brother, said in a statement. “There is no greater success than for a wrongful detainee to be freed and for them to go home. The Biden Administration made the right decision to bring Ms. Griner home, and to make the deal that was possible, rather than waiting for one that wasn’t going to happen.”

Whelan is a Michigan corporate security executive who has been jailed in Russia since December 2018 on espionage charges that his family and the U.S. government has said are baseless.

“We’ve not forgotten about Paul Whelan,” President Joe Biden said as the White House announced the deal for Griner’s release. “We will keep negotiating in good faith for Paul’s release.”

Read our full report.

'Devastated' family of American prisoner backs Griner deal

The brother of an American detained in Russia for nearly four years says the Biden administration “made the right decision” to agree to a prisoner exchange that freed WNBA star Brittney Griner

Rachel Sharp10 December 2022 04:00

More prisoner swaps possible, Putin says

Russian President Vladimir Putin told reporters on Friday in the wake of Brittney Griner’s release that more prisoner swaps with the US may be possible in the future.

According to the Associated Press, Mr Putin said that “everything is possible” when asked if there may be more prisoner exchanges in the future.

“We aren’t refusing to continue this work in the future,” he said.

It’s unclear what that may mean in for Paul Whelan, an American who has been locked up in Russia since 2018. The White House pushed for his release alongside Griner’s, but reports indicate Russia was not willing to release Mr Whelan.

Joe Biden said he would “never give up” trying to secure Mr Whelan’s release.

Read more in the Independent Premium story below...

Putin says more prisoner swaps with US ‘possible’

Russia swapped US basketball star Brittney Griner with the prolific arms dealer Bout at Abu Dhabi airport

Graig Graziosi10 December 2022 02:00

A history of US-Russian prisoner swaps

A history of US-Russian prisoner swaps

The prisoner trade that saw Brittney Griner released from Russian custody is the latest in a lengthy history of prisoner exchanges going back decades between the former Cold War adversaries.

These at-times daring transactions are often the result of intense back channel negotiations, as imprisoned citizens become pawns in a broader geopolitical war.

Bridge of Spies to Anna Chapman: A history of US-Russian prisoner swaps

The former Cold War adversaries have pulled off yet another notable exchange

Bevan Hurley10 December 2022 01:00

Pentagon admits concern that Viktor Bout will return to dealing arms

The Pentagon has admitted that US officials are concerned Viktor Bout will return to dealing arms following his release on Thursday.

A senior Defense Department official told Politico that the Biden administration is fearful that Bout could return to his past of illegally trafficking weapons – something that could pose a danger to America.

“I think there is a concern that [he] would return to doing the same kind of work that he’s done in the past,” the anonymous official said.

Bout is a notorous arms dealer who earned the nickname the “Merchant of Death”.

At the time of his release on Thursday, he was in the middle of a 25-year sentence in a US prison on multiple charges including conspiring to kill Americans.

Rachel Sharp9 December 2022 23:00

Brittney Griner’s family thanks President Joe Biden for her release from Russian custody

Brittney Griner’s family has relased a statement thanking President Joe Biden for her release from Russian custody.

“We would like to extend our sincere gratitude to President Biden and his administration for the tireless work they did to bring Brittney home,” it reads.

“We would also like to extend a special thank you to Governor Richardson and Mickey Bergman of the Richardson Center for their work, as well as remaining in constant communication with us.”

The family went on to thank Paul Whelan and his family for their support as they hope that he too will be released soon.

“We sincerely thank you all for the kind words, thoughts and prayers — including Paul and the Whelan family who have been generous with their support for Brittney and our family during what we know is a heartbreaking time. We pray for Paul and for the swift and safe return of all wrongfully-detained Americans,” the statement read.

“We ask that you respect our privacy as we embark on this road to healing. The Griner Family”

Rachel Sharp9 December 2022 22:00

Russian state media touts prisoner swap as ‘tremendous victory’ over the US

Russian state media portrayed a prisoner swap with the US that resulted in the release of both former WNBA star Brittney Griner and arms dealer Viktor Bout as a “tremendous victory” in broadcasts.

“I have to say that we have achieved a tremendous victory today. I don’t even think we have the full understanding of how big it is,” Russian state media personality Vladimir Soloviev said during a broadcast of his daily show. “The Russian intelligence agencies, alongside the Foreign Ministry, have carried out a stunning operation and brought home a man who did not plead guilty once, who was wrongly convicted and slandered but did not betray his homeland.”

Graig Graziosi9 December 2022 21:31

Russian spy who infiltrated US conservative groups gloats over release of Viktor Bout

Marina Butina, a Russian spy who was captured by US agents and later released, gloated on social media over the release of Viktor Bout, the “Merchant of Death” arms dealer who was traded in exchange for the release of former WNBA star Brittney Griner.

“The fact that Russia pushed through the exchange of (Viktor) Bout, whom America fundamentally did not want to give away for many years, right now means that, like in The Godfather, we ‘made them an offer that cannot be refused,’” Ms Butina said on the Telegram message app on Thursday. “This is a position of strength, comrades.”

Ms Butina spent years infiltrating right-wing groups, including the National Rifle Association, before she was caught and imprisoned. She was released from prison in 2019 by the Trump administration and returned to Moscow. She is now a politician.

Graig Graziosi9 December 2022 21:00

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