WNBA Star Griner Freed in Prisoner Swap

After a dramatic high-level negotiation between the US and Russia, detained US basketball star Brittney Griner was released on Thursday in a prisoner exchange for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout. US Pres. Biden announced that Griner was safe and "on a plane" home.

WNBA Star Griner Freed in Prisoner Swap
Image credit: AP

Facts

  • After a dramatic high-level negotiation between the US and Russia, detained US basketball star Brittney Griner was released on Thursday in a prisoner exchange for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout. US Pres. Biden announced that Griner was safe and "on a plane" home.
  • Russia had been holding the two-time Olympic gold medalist since detaining her at Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport in February for carrying vape canisters with cannabis oil in her luggage. Her detention coincided with the start of the war in Ukraine, which complicated US relations with the Kremlin.
  • Griner, whose lawyer argued she needed the medical cannabis – illegal in Russia – to assuage pain from injuries, pleaded guilty to possession in July.
  • Bout, considered the highest-profile Russian held by the US, was convicted for allegedly conspiring to kill Americans in 2011 and was in the midst of a 25-year sentence. He has also been accused of supplying arms to al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and rebels in Rwanda.
  • The United Arab Emirates president and Saudi crown prince released a joint statement saying they led the mediation efforts. The White House later denied their involvement, saying Griner's release was negotiated only between the US and Russia. The exchange did, however, take place in Abu Dhabi.
  • There had been hope the US would also be able to secure the release of former Marine Paul Whelan, who has been detained since 2018. Biden said that Russia is treating Whelan’s case “differently than Brittney’s,” but “we are not giving up.”

Sources: CBS, Associated Press, Reuters, New York Times, and CNN.

Narratives

  • Republican narrative, as provided by Townhall. Biden is treating this like a victory, and it might be in terms of public relations because of Griner’s status as a star athlete. But the fact remains that Whelan, a man who served his country in the armed forces, has been left behind, and the US has clearly been taken advantage of in this deal of the “Merchant of Death” for a basketball player.
  • Democratic narrative, as provided by CNN. Of course, it’s disappointing that Whelan remains imprisoned. But Griner’s release, in the face of sexist and racist backlash even from her fellow Americans, is a triumph. And with Griner’s family working to keep Whelan’s name in the news, perhaps this is a step toward freeing him in the near future.