Brittney Griner, the American basketball star detained by Russian authorities in February, has safely returned to the United States after being released from custody in a prisoner exchange.
Griner, 32, “arrived at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston, Texas early Friday … and was taken to Brooke Army Medical Center for a routine evaluation,” a State Department official told CNN.
U.S. officials who met Griner Friday morning in San Antonio said she was “in good spirits” and “incredibly gracious,” National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby told CNN on Friday, December 9, 2022. Griner stepped off the plane shortly after 5:30 a.m. ET Friday at Kelly Field.
“So happy to have Brittney back on U.S. soil. Welcome home BG!” tweeted Roger Carstens, a State Department official traveling with Griner, Friday morning.
Griner’s release was secured after a prisoner swap between the U.S. and Russia that involved international arms dealer Viktor Bout, who was arrested in 2008 in Thailand and extradited to the U.S. in 2010.
The exchange was conducted Thursday in Abu Dhabi, senior Biden administration officials said. A joint statement from the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia said the Gulf countries played a role in mediating the exchange between the U.S. and Russia.
It is not a sign of improvements in U.S.-Russian relations, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said Friday.
Griner’s arrest and conviction played out against the backdrop of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and added further attention to the plights of other Americans in Russian custody, including Paul Whelan and Trevor Reed. Whelan’s release could not be secured in the latest prisoner swap, while Reed returned to the U.S. in April after a nearly three-year ordeal.
The Biden administration will continue negotiating with Russia to secure Whelan’s release, it said Friday. Russians “have things they want in this world,” and Moscow knows ultimately the two sides will reach “a mutually acceptable arrangement if they keep talking to us,” a senior administration official told CNN.
President Joe Biden said efforts to bring Griner home took “painstaking and intense negotiations” as he thanked members of his administration who were involved.
“This is a day we’ve worked toward for a long time. We never stopped pushing for her release,” he said Thursday.
The final deal came together over 48 hours, senior U.S. administration officials said, launching the process of moving Griner from the penal colony where she was serving a lengthy sentence. Biden gave final approval for the prisoner swap freeing Griner over the past week, an official familiar with the matter said.
Bout has returned home to Russia, the Russian foreign ministry said Thursday. The prisoner exchange with Griner was “completed successfully at Abu Dhabi Airport” on Thursday, the ministry said.
Griner’s family thanked Biden and his administration Thursday in a statement, as well as former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, whose Richardson Center worked on behalf of the family to help secure Griner’s release. They also expressed gratitude for the outpouring of public support they’ve received.
“We sincerely thank you all for the kind words, thoughts and prayers – including Paul and the Whelan family who have been generous with their support for Brittney and our family during what we know is a heartbreaking time,” the statement said. “We pray for Paul and for the swift and safe return of all wrongfully detained Americans.”