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Released in exchange for Viktor Bout | Brittney Griner back in the United States



(San Antonio) American basketball star Brittney Griner arrived in the United States on Friday morning after being released from a Russian prison in exchange for an arms dealer nicknamed the “dealer of death”.

“We confirm that Brittney Griner has arrived at the San Antonio Army Base in Texas […] and that she was transported to Brooke Military Medical Center, as per protocol,” a spokesperson for the major military medical center said Friday.

The 32-year-old African-American, two-time Olympic champion, landed in San Antonio around 5:40 a.m. (Eastern Time). Dressed in a red jacket, she got off the plane before daybreak, noted an AFP journalist.


Brittney Griner getting off the plane in San Antonio, Texas

Brittney Griner, who was arrested in Russia in February in possession of a vape containing cannabis diluted in liquid, and Viktor Bout, 55, who was serving a 25-year sentence in a US prison, were exchanged at an airport from Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

The basketball player is in “good spirits,” White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told MSNBC on Friday.

In a statement, Brittney Griner’s family expressed their “sincere gratitude to President Biden and his administration for their tireless work in bringing Brittney home.” »

” Relief ”

In images of the exchange, which seems straight out of the Cold War, the sportswoman appears with her hair cropped, without her usual long dreadlocks.


Brittney Griner (left)

In another video broadcast by the pro-Kremlin channel RT, we see Brittney Griner leaving her penal colony bags in hand. A guard asks her in Russian “Do you think you will come back here one day? “.

In the United States, the wife of the basketball player, Cherelle Griner said Thursday “overwhelmed by emotions”.

“Not a day in the past 10 months that we haven’t held Brittney Griner in our hearts and thoughts,” said WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates participated in the exchange procedure, but the White House put their role into perspective.

“The only countries that participated in the negotiations are the United States and Russia,” said US executive spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre.

Paul Whelan “strongly disappointed”

A senior US official said the discussion with Moscow remained focused on Brittney Griner’s release, and the US made this known to Ukraine and other allies.

The Kremlin stressed for its part on Friday that the negotiations “concerned only the exchange” and did not put an end to the “crisis” between the two countries, whose relations are “still in a deplorable state”.

“It is the result of negotiations and the search for compromise. In this case, we have found a compromise and we do not refuse to continue this work in the future, ”said Vladimir Putin on Friday during a press conference on the sidelines of a summit in Kyrgyzstan.

Another American detained in Russia, Paul Whelan, was not included in the exchange. Mr. Kirby said Friday that the United States continued to work with Moscow to repatriate this former soldier, sentenced to 16 years in prison for “espionage”, a conviction which he denounces as fabricated from scratch.


Paul Whelan

“Merchant of Death”

Brittney Griner was arrested in February when she was hired by the Russian team from Ekaterinburg, during the American offseason, a common practice.

In August, she was sentenced to nine years in prison and then, after her appeal was rejected, was transferred in November to a penal colony in central Russia.

His supporters have always denounced a hostage-taking to haggle with Washington in the midst of the conflict in Ukraine.

The name of Viktor Bout had been mentioned in the summer. Famous Russian arms trafficker, arrested in Thailand in 2008, he was sentenced to 25 years in prison in the United States.

Viktor Bout landed in Russia on Thursday, according to a Russian public television channel. In an interview with Russian media RT on Friday, this former Soviet officer accused the West of wanting to “destroy” and “divide” Russia.


Viktor Bout (right)

Nicknamed the “merchant of death”, his extraordinary journey served as inspiration for the film Lord of War with Nicholas Cage.

Americans and Russians accuse each other of detaining their respective nationals for political purposes. Several prisoner exchanges have taken place in the past.

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