On Thursday, WNBA player Brittney Griner, who had received a sentence of 9 years to be served in a penal colony in Russia for drug-related charges, was released in a prisoner swap.
The prisoner Russia got back in the deal was Viktor Bout, an international arms dealer. He was convicted of conspiring to kill Americans, to obtain and sell anti-aircraft missiles, and of providing material support for a terrorist organization.
During an early morning speech, President Biden celebrated the release of Griner, and vowed to get other Americans unjustly held in other countries around the world back home safely.
"Moments ago, standing with her wife, Cherelle in the Oval Office, I spoke with Brittney Griner. 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 circumstances," said Biden.
Biden thanked the "hard-working public servants across my administration," as well as the United Arab Emirates for helping facilitate Griner’s release.
Noting Griner’s safe release, Biden also noted that the administration has not "forgotten about Paul Whelan, who has been unjustly detained in Russia for years. This was not a choice of which American to bring home."
Whelan, a US Marine veteran, has been in Russian custody since 2018, when he was sentenced to 16 years in prison on espionage charges, according to Fox News.
"Sadly, for totally illegitimate reasons Russia is treating Paul’s case differently than Brittney’s. And while we have not yet succeeded in securing Paul’s release, we are not giving up. We will never give up," said Biden.
Whelan had initially been a part of the exchange discussions, the two US citizens to be exchanged for Bout, but that deal fell through.
Whelan was arrested in Moscow in December of 2018. According to the Associated Press, his lawyer said that Whelan had been handed a flash drive that had classified information on it Whelan wasn’t aware of.
Bout had been accused by the UN of supplying arms to Liberian President Charles Taylor to fight a civil war in Sierra Leone. He also sold weapons to the Taliban, and was "notorious for his willingness to arm almost anyone," CNN reports.
He began his career in arms dealing after the collapse of the Soviet Union, where he was able to gain access to Soviet-made weapons and sell them to warlords and rogue states in Africa, Asia, and South America.
Biden signed an order commuting Blout’s sentence, cutting it short by 10 years.
Bout was arrested in Thailand in 2008 as part of a DEA sting during which was recorded trying to sell missiles to agents whom he believed were leftist Columbia guerillas. He was sentenced to 25 years, and began to serve his time ten years ago.
This is a breaking story and will be updated.
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