Following an eight-month saga of high diplomacy and dashed hopes, American basketball star Brittney Griner returned home on Thursday night after being released from a Russian prison in exchange for the release of notorious Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.
The agreement secured the release of the most prominent American in foreign custody and achieved a key objective for President Joe Biden. However, the American authorities recognized that it was a high price, and gave in anyway.
Biden’s executive order to release Bout, the Russian felon dubbed “the Merchant of Death,” reiterated the highly elevated importance that his administration faced to get Griner home, especially well after latest settlement of her criminal case on drug charges and her subsequent transfer to a penal colony. Griner, who also played pro basketball in Russia, was stopped at an airport there after Russian investigators alleged she was carrying vape canisters containing cannabis oil.
Griner is a two-time Olympic gold medalist, a Baylor University All-American, and a star basketball player for the Phoenix Mercury. After her arrest, she became the most well-known American detained abroad.
Her identity as a Black woman who is out lesbian and imprisoned in a nation where the government has been antagonistic to the LBGTQ community injected racial, gender, and social dimensions into her legal story and garnered unheard-of attention for the issue of wrongfully detained individuals.
The Russian Foreign Ministry confirmed the exchange and said in a statement from the Russian press that the exchange had taken place in Abu Dhabi and that Bout had returned home. Two Russians hug Bout when they meet him.