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Brittney Griner’s Release: How Did It Even Happen?

Source: SUZANNE CORDEIRO / Getty

Brittney Griner finally made her long-awaited return to the United States on Thursday. The WNBA star was released from Russian detainment shortly after the U.S. struck a trade deal with officials from the country. Griner was exchanged for Russian Arms dealer Viktor Bout. Here’s everything we know about basketball star’s road to freedom.

U.S. officials will assist Brittney Griner as soon as she arrives

According to CNN, Griner was expected to land in San Antonio on Thursday but the time was unclear. State Department Spokesperson Ned Price told MSNBC that U.S. officials will tend to the “needs” of the Olympian as soon as she arrives.

“She may seek the assistance that the U.S. is going to provide, and we are going to make all of that available to her. How long she takes advantage of that assistance, is a question for Brittney Griner, it is a question for Cherelle. But it is going to be an ongoing conversation we have with them,” Price added.
Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, was arrested on Feb. 17 at a Moscow airport after Russian customs officials discovered vape cartridges containing cannabis oil in her luggage.  She was sentenced on Aug. 4 to nine years. Attorneys for the former Phoenix Mercury star filed an appeal on Aug. 15.
Throughout her painstakingly long case, the U.S. was in talks to exchange Brittney Griner for convicted arms trafficker Viktor Bout, also known as the “Merchant of Death.” Bout was sentenced to 25 years in prison on conspiracy charges after he was accused of providing aid to terrorist organizations and conspiring to kill Americas. Officials also accused Bout of acquiring and exporting anti-aircraft missiles.

White House confirms trade negotiation with Russia

State Department official Roger Carstens was mum about the negotiation, but in June, U.S. officials gave a glimmer of hope about the deal. The White House said they were in “serious” talks with Russia to trade Griner, but had yet to receive a legitimate counteroffer.

“In the subsequent weeks, despite a lack of good faith negotiation by the Russians, the U.S. Government has continued to follow up on that offer and propose alternative potential ways forward with the Russians through all available channels,” White House officials said in a statement at the time, according to ESPN.

In August, Russia’s foreign minister Sergey Lavrov finally agreed to sit down with the Biden Administration to “discuss” the trade “but within the framework of the channel that has been agreed by the presidents.”

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken also echoed similar statements during a summit conference. “We put forward, as you know, a substantial proposal that Russia should engage with us on. And what Foreign Minister Lavrov said this morning and said publicly is that they are prepared to engage through channels we’ve established to do just that. And we’ll be pursuing that,” he told reporters.

 

Concerns over Viktor Bout’s past emerge during the trade deal

The Biden Administration conducted a “thorough” assessment of Bout’s criminal record before they traded Brittney Griner. Officials said they wanted to determine whether the convicted arms dealer would pose a threat to U.S. security if he was released.

A White House rep told CNN that one thing they took into account was that Bout had been in prison for over a decade and had no recent record of criminal activity. The official did not give clear details as to how they were able to be certain about the Russian arms deal’s threat level to the U.S.

When news of the Griner-Bout swap became public, some people criticized the White House for completing the trade. Many were concerned as to what Bout may do now that he is a free man.

Controversial Georgia rep. Marjorie Taylor Green sounded off about the issue on Twitter, calling for Biden to be impeached.

“The President of the United States traded Russian terrorist arms dealer, Viktor Bout, left a U.S. Marine in Russian jail, and brought home a professional basketball player. How many people will Viktor Bout now kill bc Biden set him free?” she tweeted.

 

Brittney Griner’s team says there were hints about her release last week

Concerns about Griner’s safety and well-being peaked in November when the athlete was shipped off to Russia’s notorious IK-2 colony female prison to serve her nine-year sentence. The rough penal colony, which is based in Mordovia, is notorious for its inadequate facility conditions and ruthless prison guards.

During an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper, Griner’s lawyer Maria Blagovolina said she had received a call from the Texas native last week that offered positive news about her possible release.

“There were signs. There were positive signs, I would say, which appeared last week, and I got a call from Brittney at the end of last week and she told me that she’s hopeful. So we had an understanding that things would be happening very, very soon,” Blagovolina shared. She also noted that things were stressful for Brittney Griner inside the prison facility.

“This is not a holiday resort. This is jail, and the conditions there are really harsh, and that’s true. But what I can say for sure, that Brittney has not complained and was treated very well – and I think that the reason for this is mostly because of her very likable character. People like her,” Blagovolina added. “So everybody who is around her just is trying to help her, to support her.”

SEE ALSO:

Did Russia Cut Brittney Griner’s Locs Off? Prisoner Swap Video Goes Viral

Brittney Griner’s Wife Cherelle Speaks Out Amid Debate About Paul Whelan’s Release

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