Brittney Griner finally made her long-awaited return to the United States on Thursday. The WNBA star was released from Russian detainment shortly after the U.S. struck a trade deal with officials from the country. Griner was exchanged for Russian Arms dealer Viktor Bout. Here’s everything we know about basketball star’s road to freedom.
U.S. officials will assist Brittney Griner as soon as she arrives
According to CNN, Griner is expected to land in San Antonio on Thursday but the time remains unclear. State Department Spokesperson Ned Price told MSNBC that U.S. officials will tend to the “needs” of the Olympian as soon as she arrives.
White House confirms trade negotiation with Russia
“In the subsequent weeks, despite a lack of good faith negotiation by the Russians, the U.S. Government has continued to follow up on that offer and propose alternative potential ways forward with the Russians through all available channels,” White House officials said in a statement at the time, according to ESPN.
In August, Russia’s foreign minister Sergey Lavrov finally agreed to sit down with The Biden Administration to “discuss” the trade “but within the framework of the channel that has been agreed by the presidents.”
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken also echoed similar statements during a summit conference. “We put forward, as you know, a substantial proposal that Russia should engage with us on. And what Foreign Minister Lavrov said this morning and said publicly is that they are prepared to engage through channels we’ve established to do just that. And we’ll be pursuing that,” he told reporters.
Concerns over Viktor Bout’s past emerge during the trade deal
The Biden administration conducted a “thorough” assessment of Bout’s criminal record before they traded Brittney Griner. Officials said they wanted to determine whether the convicted arms dealer would pose a threat to U.S. security if he was released.
A White House rep told CNN that one thing they took into account was that Bout had been in prison for over a decade and had no recent record of criminal activity. The official did not give clear details as to how they were able to be certain about the Russian arms deal’s threat level to the U.S.
When news of the Griner-Bout swap became public, some people criticized the White House for completing the trade. Many were concerned as to what Bout may do now that he is a free man.
Controversial Georgia rep. Marjorie Taylor Green sounded off about the issue on Twitter, calling for Biden to be impeached.
“The President of the United States traded Russian terrorist arms dealer, Viktor Bout, left a U.S. Marine in Russian jail, and brought home a professional basketball player. How many people will Viktor Bout now kill bc Biden set him free?” she tweeted.
Brittney Griner’s team says there were hints about her release last week
Concerns about Griner’s safety and well-being peaked in November when the athlete was shipped off to Russia’s notorious IK-2 colony female prison to serve her nine-year sentence. The rough penal colony, which is based in Mordovia, is notorious for its inadequate facility conditions and ruthless prison guards.
During an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper, Griner’s lawyer Maria Blagovolina said she had received a call from the Texas native last week that offered positive news about her possible release.
“This is not a holiday resort. This is jail, and the conditions there are really harsh, and that’s true. But what I can say for sure, that Brittney has not complained and was treated very well – and I think that the reason for this is mostly because of her very likable character. People like her,” Blagovolina added. “So everybody who is around her just is trying to help her, to support her.”
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