President Biden stated that WNBA star Britney Griner has been freed from the Russian prison she was being held at.
Biden stated to the United States that this was something that “we worked toward for a long time.”
“She’s safe. She’s on a plane. She’s on her way home after months of being unjustly detained in Russia, held under intolerable conditions,” Biden said from the Roosevelt Room.
Just moments before making the announcement, the President of the United States said the athlete was in good spirits but of course had experienced some trauma from the ordeal.
“Brittney will soon be back in the arms of her loved ones and she should have been there all along,” Biden said.
In a press release from Russia’s Foreign Ministry, Griner was exchanged at the Abu Dhabi airport for the convicted criminal and Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.
Moments ago I spoke to Brittney Griner.
She is safe.
She is on a plane.
She is on her way home. pic.twitter.com/FmHgfzrcDT
— President Biden (@POTUS) December 8, 2022
These prisoner swaps are nothing new to the United States. For quite some time, the nation has steered away from pursuing these in concern that it could provide
danger to the United States and encourage the imprisonment of Americans abroad.
However, in this case the administration felt more of a “moral obligation” and policy obligation to make sure that the athlete came home after the outcry of millions of people on social media.
“We start by asking ourselves this question: How is it acceptable for someone like Brittney Griner to be put through sham proceedings and forced to spend [time] … in a Russian penal colony, in horrific circumstances that she did not deserve? And we regard that as unacceptable,” the official said.’
This exchange did not, however, include the former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan who has remained in Russia on espionage charges. Many in the United States have been hoping that this is resolved in the future as well.
“While we have not yet succeeded in securing Paul’s release, we are not giving up,” Biden said Thursday. “We will never give up.”
The proposals the administration had in mind included Whelan, but the Russian’s refused to consider any of them.
“This was not a situation where we had a choice of which American to bring home,” an official told reporters on a conference call. “It was a choice between bringing home one particular American — Brittney Griner — or bringing home none.”
Cherelle Griner, Brittney’s wife, stated that she was overwhelmed by emotions and expressed great gratitude and relief that the athlete was to return home.
“BG and I will remain committed to the work of getting every American home, including Paul,” she said.
Incredible news that Britney Griner is coming home. Now the work has to continue to bring Paul home too. https://t.co/QE62u29jE1
— Mallory McMorrow (@MalloryMcMorrow) December 8, 2022
Griner had coverage from all social media outlets in the U.S. for quote some time over the long period she was detained. In July, she sent him a handwritten letter, saying “I’m terrified I might be here forever.”
Griner was sentenced last august by a Russian court to nine years in prison for carrying less than a gram of hash oil into Russia when she arrived in February to play in the Russian women’s professional basketball league.
The athlete’s arrest in February came just a days within the Russia invasion on Ukraine.
Social media poured out their support and rejoiced at the news. But many online also poured out how disappointed that Paul Whelan was not joining her.
David Whelan, Paul Whelan's brother, says: "Any time an American comes home, it's wonderful news … We do worry about what's in Paul's future. I think it's become clear that the U.S. doesn't have any concessions that Russia wants for Paul." pic.twitter.com/xkTpJbaR0Y
— philip lewis (@Phil_Lewis_) December 8, 2022
There has even been a long standing Twitter account @freepaulwhelan that has made posts since he was wrongfully imprisoned in Russia.
Meet Brittney Griner & Marine Paul Whelan.
Both were convicted in Russian courts on dubious charges.
Both serving multi-year sentences in Russian prison.
Brittney hates America
Paul served America
Guess which one Biden traded a terrorist to free?
Semper fi Paul pic.twitter.com/tuP1R6AZpf
— Benny Johnson (@bennyjohnson) December 8, 2022
Mind you, Paul Whelan’s family is being more nuanced about Griners release than those mad about it. pic.twitter.com/m5xZ3Zu4Nj
— George M Johnson (@IamGMJohnson) December 8, 2022
For folks who haven’t spared a single thought about Paul Whelan, except for at this very moment to try to minimize the release of Brittney Griner, here’s what *his own family* thinks of her release. https://t.co/LLnVa8TNKT
— nick wright (@getnickwright) December 8, 2022
The administration will continue to work on the release of Paul Whelan at this time. As of this time, his family has continued their outward support of the release of Brittney Griner.