In February, the two-time Olympian and WNBA player for the Phoenix Mercury team was arrested at a Moscow airport on allegations of having cannabis oil in her luggage. In August, Griner was found guilty of drug possession and drug smuggling charges and then sentenced to nine years in a Russian prison.
Thursday, Biden said, “After months of being unjustly detained in Russia, held on intolerable circumstances, Brittney will soon be back in the arms of her loved ones, and she should have been there all along.”
In order to secure Griner’s release, Biden ordered Bout to be freed and returned to Russia, cutting his 25-year federal prison sentence, per CBS News.
Bout, known as the “Merchant of Death,” was arrested in 2008 in Thailand by the Drug Enforcement Agency. He was convicted of conspiring to murder Americans. CNN reports the Kremlin called his sentencing in 2012 “baseless and biased.”
But Griner’s release was bittersweet today, as negotiations were unsuccessful in releasing U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, who’s been in Russia for four years after being charged with espionage—a charge Whelan and the U.S. have fervently denied.
Whelan was detained in a hotel in Russia in 2018 and later sentenced to 16 years in prison.
“We never forget about Brittney,” Biden said Thursday, adding, “And we’ve not forgotten about Paul Whelan, who’s been unjustly detained in Russia for years. This was not a choice of which American to bring home. We brought home Trevor Reed when we had a chance earlier this year. Sadly, for totally illegitimate reasons, Russia is treating Paul’s case differently than Brittney’s. And while we have not yet succeeded in securing Paul’s release, we are not giving up. We will never give up,” he said.
Cherelle Griner spoke from the White House Thursday to thank the many supporters of her wife. “Today’s just a happy day for me and my family.”
Biden told reporters that Griner would be back in the U.S. within 24 hours.
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