How is Brittney Griner doing now that she’s returned to the U.S.A.?
From diplomatic turmoil, to transfer to a penal colony, to an exchange for a high-profile arms dealer, it’s been a long road for Brittney Griner, but she’s finally home.
The WNBA star is finally home after 10 months in Russian custody and it goes without saying that the relief felt by her family, friends, her community and even her government is immense.
Brittney Griner’s return raises questions
On Friday, Brittney Griner made a long-awaited return to the United States and was reunited with her wife Cherelle , after nearly 10 months in the Russian prison system. Indeed, the WNBA’s best player was the most high-profile American in a foreign prison and it showed, as her detention essentially ignited an intense diplomatic and political battle between the two super powers. It goes without saying, that Griner’s identity as an openly gay Black woman didn’t help her case, in a country that has been historically hostile towards the LGBTQ community. To that end, concern for her treatment following her arrest was at fever pitch.
Yet, there is another side to the 32-year-old’s situation and that’s the man for whom she was exchanged. The internationally infamous arms dealer Viktor Bout, was the prisoner who went in the opposite direction, as President Joe Biden authorized the prisoner exchange and rest assured, it’s a move that has brought intense scrutiny on both sides of the aisle in the American government. Even more curious, is the fact that when asked if such exchanged could happen in the future, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that “everything is possible,” before adding that “compromises have been found” to clear the way for Thursday’s swap. Known as the “Merchant of Death,” Bout’s involvement in the exchange is testament to the urgency which Biden’s administration placed on Griner’s release after it was reported that she had been moved to a penal colony following a criminal case brought against her for drug charges.
What was the response to Brittney Griner’s return?
After she landed on Friday at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland in Texas, the two-time Olympic gold medalist was visibly in high spirits. It goes without saying, that so too were many others including Roger Carstens, the special presidential envoy for hostage affairs, who tweeted “So happy to have Brittney back on U.S. soil. Welcome home BG!” There was a statement from Griner’s professional team, the Phoenix Mercury, with head coach Vanessa Nygaard saying, “We’re just so happy to have her back,” during an interview. “We are looking eagerly forward to welcoming her back to our community,” said Nygaard, before adding that she had not yet had the opportunity to speak with Griner.
It is also understood, that President Biden spoke with Griner via phone, with U.S. officials who met her on arrival stating that she was in “very good spirits” and appeared to be in good health. White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, also indicated that Griner would be offered specialized medical services in addition to counseling.
How did Brittney Griner get here?
It was back in February of this year, when the WNBA star, was arrested at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport after Russian authorities said she was carrying vape canisters containing cannabis oil. The U.S. State Department declared Griner to be “wrongfully detained,” which then in turn was met with sharp Russian rejection. Griner would later plead guilty in July, but was still subjected to a trial due to the fact that a guilty plea does not automatically end a case in the Russian judicial system. Ultimately, she was sentenced to nine years. It’s worth mentioning that Griner’s defense team presented written statements which indicated she had been prescribed cannabis for the purpose of pain relief.
What about Viktor Bout?
Thursday’s exchange, was promptly acknowledged by the Russian Foreign Ministry in a statement which explained that the deal occurred in Abu Dhabi, while also indicating that Bout had been flown home. A former Soviet Army lieutenant colonel, Bout was arrested in 2008 during a complex sting operation in which he was found to be facilitating the acquisition of arms by a militant group intent on killing Americans. The man once described as one of the world’s most notorious arms dealers was extradited to the U.S.A. in 2010 and remained in detention until Thursday. Officially, Bout was serving a 25-year sentence on charges of conspiracy to sell millions of dollars in weapons to individuals who posed a clear threat to American lives.