On Thursday, Russia released the imprisoned US basketball star Brittney Griner in a high-level prisoner exchange for the notorious arms dealer Viktor Bout, who had been held in a US prison for 12 years.
Joe Biden, who had made Griner’s release a top priority after she had spent nearly ten months in jail on drug charges, said in a White House address that he had spoken with her and found her “in good spirits.”
“She’s safe, she’s on a plane, she’s on her way home after months of being wrongfully detained in Russia under intolerable conditions,” he said. “Brittney will be back in her loved ones’ arms soon, and she should have been there all along.”
Griner is a two-time Olympic gold medalist whose detention on drug charges drew unprecedented attention to the population of wrongfully detained people. In August, she was found guilty and sentenced to nine years in a Russian penal colony.
Griner was arrested in February of this year. Her status as an openly gay Black woman imprisoned in a country hostile to the LBGTQ+ community infused racial, gender, and social dynamics into her legal saga.
Her case became a major turning point in US-Russia diplomacy at a time of deteriorating relations caused by Moscow’s war against Ukraine.
Yielding the highest-level known contact between Washington and Moscow – a phone call between Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov – in more than five months.
His brother, David Whelan, said: “I am so glad that Brittney Griner is on her way home. 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.”