After an agonizing ordeal that stems back to February 2022, WNBA star Brittney Griner is finally coming home. Griner was released on Thursday, December 8, in a prisoner swap for the notorious Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout. The exchange was finalized within the last 48 hours after a window of opportunity for the final deal opened in recent weeks.
Earlier this year, Griner was arrested at a Moscow airport for accidentally bringing CBD vape cartridges into Russia. Though they were prescription medications, officials said they violated Russia’s ironclad zero drugs policy. In August, Griner was tried and found guilty of drug smuggling. She was given a nine-year sentence at one of Russia’s most notorious penal colonies.
Griner’s release was also the result of mediation between Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Per both nations, “The joint statement issued by the [Saudi Arabian and the UAE] ministries affirmed that the success of the mediation efforts is a reflection of the mutual and solid friendship that connects both countries with the United States of America and the Russian Federation.”
According to Russia’s foreign minister, the exchange between Griner and Bout took place at the al Bateen Airport in Abu Dhabi on Thursday. Brittney Griner arrived on a private plane from Moscow, and Viktor Bout flew in from Washington, DC, also via a private airplane. Specialists from Saudi Arabia and the UAE were present to oversee the transfer.
Upon her arrival at the executive airport, Griner was greeted by United States officials, including Roger Carstens, a presidential envoy for hostage situations. The Olympian was “all smiles” and “grateful” before she boarded another plane at approximately 9 AM. This flight was the one that would bring her home.
USA Basketball celebrated the news on Twitter. Van Jones of CNN called Griner’s release the “result of a grassroots movement” and “a joyful moment for the Black women who led a movement to get one of their sisters home.”
Brittney Griner’s wife, Cherelle, was at the White House on Thursday. Standing beside President Joe Biden, she was beaming while thanking the president for his efforts in bringing her spouse home.
“So over the last nine months, you all have been so privy to one of the darkest moments of my life, and so today I’m just standing here overwhelmed with emotions, but the most important emotion that I have right now is just sincere gratitude for President Biden and his entire administration,” said Cherelle.
During the nightmarish ordeal, Biden praised Brittney Griner for her “grit and incredible integrity” and reassured the world, “Brittney will soon be back in the arms of her loved ones.”
It promises to be an emotional homecoming, indeed.
Cover Image: Getty via BBC