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Brittney Griner is an American professional basketball player for the Phoenix Mercury WNBA team. She was arrested in Russia in February 2022 on smuggling charges after Russian police found vaporizer cartridges carrying hash oil in her luggage at Sheremetyevo International Airport.
Griner was sentenced to nine years in prison, but a prison swap deal from the U.S. government freed her early. Read on below for everything we know about the deal as of now.
How was Griner freed?
Following Griner’s arrest, her family enlisted the help of Bring Our Families Home, a non-profit organization that seeks to free American hostages and detainees in other countries. The organization communicated with the U.S. government and helped encourage efforts to find a way to free Griner.
In May of this year, it was announced that the U.S. government had proposed a trade to Russia that involved a Russian U.S. prisoner named Viktor Bout being released in exchange for Griner and another American prisoner in Russia named Paul Whelan. Months of back and forth about the deal included an offer from Russia to accept the deal if a Russian assassin named Vadim Krasikov, who is currently imprisoned in Germany, was released.
Who is Viktor Bout?
Viktor Bout is a Russian weapons manufacturer, arms dealer, and former Soviet military translator. He was arrested in Thailand in 2008 and extradited to the United States on charges of terrorism. In 2011, Bout was convicted of “conspiracy to kill Americans and US officials, deliver anti-aircraft missiles and aid a terrorist organisation.” For the last ten years, Bout has been held at the United States Penitentiary, Marion.
Before his arrest, Bout was known for his large clientele and global operations and was known as the “Merchant of Death” and the “Sanctions Buster” for his willingness to overlook trade embargoes when selling weapons to hostile foreign powers.
Who is Paul Whelan, and why does his name keep coming up?
If you’ve been following this case at all, you’ve probably heard about Paul Whelan, but who is he, and why is he relevant? Paul Whelan is a former police officer and United States Marine who was wrongfully arrested and imprisoned in Russia in 2018 on charges of espionage, which Whelan and the United States government have denied. In June 2020, Whelan was convicted and sentenced to serve 16 years in Russian prison for the accused crimes.
Whelan stated during his trial that the entire arrest was a con by the Russian government to try to gain leverage over the United States. He said, “We have proven my innocence… we have proven fabrication. This is slimy, greasy corrupt Russian politics, nothing more, nothing less.”
How is Griner doing?
Brittney Griner is home now, and all reports seem to indicate that she’s healthy and doing well. Griner will have to undergo the standard medical examination given to all returned foreign prisoners, but she’s been seen spending time with her wife, Cherelle, and beginning to practice on the basketball court again.