American Brittney Griner, who was held in a Russian prison for months, was released to U.S. custody on Thursday, as part of a prisoner swap for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.
Griner had been sentenced to serve nine years in a Russian penal colony when, in August, she was convicted of possessing vape canisters that contained 0.702 grams of cannabis oil in her luggage at a Moscow airport.
MSNBC was reporting Thursday morning that the swap took place in the United Arab Emirates.
President Biden has tweeted two photos of himself and Vice President Harris breaking the news to Griner’s wife. “Moments ago I spoke to Brittney Griner. She is safe. She is on a plane. She is on her way home,” the President tweeted.
He signed off on the prisoner swap, even though it meant leaving another U.S. prisoner, Paul Whelan, behind.
Whelan is serving a 16-year sentence in a penal colony in the Russian region of Mordovia. was arrested in 2018 and accused of spying. His brother said he was merely in Moscow for a friend’s wedding and was given a USB drive.
Biden spoke Thursday morning from the White House about Griner’s release. “I’m glad to say Brittney is in good spirits,” he said, adding that she had endured “mistreatment” in Russia “with incredible dignity.”
The President stressed that his Administration had not forgotten about Paul Whelan. “This was not a choice of which American to bring home,” he said, adding that Russia was treating Whelan’s case differently from Griner’s.
A source told MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell that Russia considers Whelan an espionage case, and that it was either one—Griner—or none, in the swap deal.
“We have not given up. We will never give up” on securing Whelan’s release, the President insisted. “I guarantee that.”
Griner’s wife Cherelle also spoke from the White House, expressing her gratitude and saying that she and “BG,” as she refers to Brittney, “will remain committed to getting every family home, including Paul.”
The President ended his speech by saying, “I strongly urge every American to take precautions” and to review the State Department’s travel advisories before traveling overseas.