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Russia frees Brittney Griner in exchange for arms dealer Viktor Bout

The basketball player is on a plane back to the United States after being traded for the convicted felon known as the "Merchant of Death."

Brittney Griner

(Cordon Press)

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Russia and the U.S. carried out the exchange of basketball star Brittney Griner for Russian arms dealer Víktor Bout, the Russian Defense Ministry reported. Griner is already on her way home, as announced by the State Department and confirmed by President Joe Biden:

Russian diplomats announced that on Thursday "as a result of intense efforts, we managed to agree with the American side on organization of an exchange of Bout for Griner." The exchange between the athlete and the convicted trafficker took place at Abu Dhabi airport.

Griner was sentenced in August to more than nine years in prison in Russia on drug possession and smuggling charges, while Bout, known as the 'Merchant of Death', was serving a 25-year prison term. The trafficker was arrested in Thailand in March 2008 and extradited to the U.S. in November 2010.

Russia boasts about the exchange

Russian officials were proud that the Biden administration finally yielded to their requests:

Washington categorically refused dialogue on the inclusion of the Russian [citizen] in the exchange scheme. Nevertheless, the Russian Federation continued to actively work to rescue our compatriot.”

Joe Biden appeared before the media to explain that Griner, who is in "good spirits," was exchanged for the Russian arms dealer after "intense" negotiations and after she was convicted in a "theatrical" and unfair trial. The president also recalled other Americans arrested in Russia or other countries, assuring that they are a "priority" for his administration.

President Biden stressed that the United States has not forgotten about Paul Whelan, a former U.S. Marine who remains in Russian custody.