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President Joe Biden said American basketball star Brittney Griner, who was detained in Russia, has been received by US authorities and is heading home. Griner’s release came after an unusual prisoner exchange.

Biden, in a statement at the White House, said that the last few months have been hell for Britney, but her psychology is good.

Griner was exchanged for a Russian arms smuggler, Viktor Bout, who was imprisoned in the United States.

The United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia said in a joint statement that the UAE President and Saudi Crown Prince led the mediation effort.

After being released in Russia, Griner arrived in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, on a private jet from Moscow. Booth also arrived in Abu Dhabi on a private jet from Washington.

“The success of the mediation efforts is a reflection of the strong mutual friendship between the two countries and the United States and the Russian Federation,” the joint statement said.

The exchange was one of President Biden’s main goals during a time of heightened tensions in the war in Ukraine. However, achieving this goal came at a high price. Another American remained, former Navy officer Paul Whelan, who was imprisoned in Russia for four years. When the news of the exchange between the US and Russia hit the press, it was thought that the release of Whelan was also on the agenda as part of the agreement.

Paul Whelan is not eligible for the swap deal

President Biden noted that the authorities continue to work on the release of Paul Whelan. In 2020, Whelan was sentenced to 16 years in prison in Russia.

“Unfortunately, for completely unjustified reasons, Russia views Paul’s situation differently than Britney. We have not yet secured Paul’s release, but we are not giving up, we will never give up,” Biden said.

This is the second time in eight months that such a swap agreement has been struck between the US and Russia. Professional basketball player Griner has been sentenced to months in prison for drugs after an e-cigarette with cannabis oil was found in his airport suitcase. Among the unfair arrests, the arrest of Griner, who won two Olympic gold medals, attracted attention in Russia.

Traded for arms dealer Victor Booth Griner

Biden freed Russian prisoner Viktor Bout, nicknamed “Merchant of Death,” in exchange for Griner’s return home. This highlights the pressure his administration is under to bring Griner home.

Biden first shared the news of Griner’s release on Twitter, saying, “I spoke to Britney Griner a few minutes ago. She is safe. She boarded the plane and is returning home.”

The Russian Foreign Ministry also confirmed the exchange in a statement released by Russian news agencies and said the exchange took place in Abu Dhabi and that the Russian captive Bout was also flown home.

Russian and US officials have been cautiously optimistic about the exchange in recent weeks after talks stalled for months. In November, Biden said he hoped to reach an agreement with Russia after the US midterm elections are over. A senior Russian official said last week that an agreement could be reached before the end of the year.

However, the deal was expected to involve both Griner and Paul Whelan, a Michigan-based security executive who was imprisoned in Russia in December 2018 on espionage charges. The allegations against Whelan are denied by her family and the US government.

By freeing Bout, the US freed a former lieutenant colonel in the Soviet Army, who was named by the Justice Department as one of the world’s most powerful arms dealers.

Booth, who also inspired the Hollywood movie, was sentenced to 25 years in prison on charges of conspiring to sell millions of dollars worth of weapons that US officials say will be used against Americans.

Griner’s arrest drew worldwide attention

But the Biden administration was willing to trade Bout for Griner’s freedom. The arrest of one of the greatest players in the history of the WNBA attracted worldwide attention and put a lot of pressure on the White House.

Griner’s arrest in February made him the most recognizable American detained abroad. As a gay, black woman, and imprisoned in a country known for its leadership hostile to the LGBTQ community, elements such as race, gender, and social dynamics have been added to her case, and every event on the issue has taken on international significance.

The Griner situation came to the fore at a time when U.S.-Russian diplomatic relations were tense over the war in Ukraine. The exchange came at a time when relations between the two powers were deteriorating. The situation of the imprisoned Americans set the stage for the highest level of contact known during this period between Washington and Moscow. Foreign Ministers of the two countries Anthony Blinken and Sergey Lavrov spoke on the phone about five months ago.

In July, Blinken took the extraordinary step of making a statement about the secret negotiations and saying that the US had offered Russia a concrete proposal to release Griner and Whelan. While Blinken did not give details of the offer, sources close to the subject said it was offered to trade Bout.

Blinken’s public statement provoked a reaction from Moscow, and the Russians said they wanted to deal with such matters in secret. The announcement was interpreted as risking weakening the US negotiating position, but at the same time it signaled that the Biden administration was continuing to work to free Americans imprisoned in Russia and to put pressure on Moscow.

Along with the efforts of US officials, the exchange came after preliminary talks involving former US Ambassador to the United Nations and hostage negotiator Bill Richardson and his deputy Mickey Bergman. They traveled abroad several times last year to discuss trade scenarios with their contacts in Russia.

Greener pleaded guilty.

Griner was arrested at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport in February when customs officers found an e-cigarette with cannabis oil in his suitcase. Griner, who pleaded guilty in July, appeared in court. In Russia, an admission of guilt does not close the case.

Griner admitted in court that he had the banned substance, but stated that he did not do so with the intent to commit a crime, but put it in a bag as he hurriedly packed his suitcase.

Before the verdict was announced on August 4, Griner left emotionally, apologized for his mistake, and said, “I hope your decision does not end my life.” Griner was sentenced to 9 years in prison and sent to a labor camp.

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