American basketball star Brittney Griner arrived in her country on Friday morning after being released from a Russian prison in exchange for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, known as “the merchant of death”, imprisoned in USA.
“We confirm that Brittner Griner arrived at the San Antonio military base, in Texas (…) and that she was transferred to the Brooke Military Medical Center, in accordance with protocol,” a spokesman for this important military establishment said on Friday.
The 32-year-old African-American athlete landed in Texas at 10:40 GMT.
The exchange of the two prisoners, Griner, 32, arrested in Russia in February on drug trafficking charges, and Viktor Bout, 55, serving a 25-year sentence in a US prison, took place at an airport in Abu Dhabi (United Arab Emirates).
In a Russian security video released by the TASS agency, a tall figure in a red jacket enters a track and a short, smiling man with a gray mustache comes out to meet him. The men in suits who accompany them greet each other on both sides and leave in the opposite direction.
“He has good morals,” White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told MSNBC on Friday.
In a statement, Brittney Griner’s family expressed their “sincere gratitude to President (Joe) Biden and his administration for the tireless work they have done to bring Brittney home” and demanded respect for her privacy as she embarks on the “path to healing”.
– “Relief” –
In the exchange images, the athlete appears with short hair, without her usual long dreadlocks.
In another video broadcast by the Russian channel RT, Griner is seen leaving the penal colony with their bags in hand. A guard asks him in Russian: “Do you think he will come back here one day?”
Women’s Basketball League (WNBA) commissioner Cathy Engelbert said the concern of everyone at the institution “has now turned into a collective wave of joy and relief.”
Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates also participated in the exchange procedure, but the White House downplayed their role.
“The only countries that participated in the negotiations are the United States and Russia,” said his spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre.
– “Major Disappointment” by Paul Whelan –
A senior US official said the discussion with Moscow had focused on Griner’s release and that Washington had let Ukraine and other allies know.
The Kremlin stressed this Friday that the negotiations “referred only to the exchange” of detainees and did not end the “crisis” between the two countries, whose relations “are still in a deplorable state.”
“It is the fruit of negotiations and the search for a compromise. In this case, we have found a compromise and we do not refuse to continue this work in the future,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said Friday during a news conference on the sidelines of a summit in Kyrgyzstan.
Another American detained in Russia, ex-military officer Paul Whelan, was not included in the exchange. “Even if we fail to secure Paul’s release, we will never give up,” Biden said.
Speaking to CNN by phone from the penal colony where he is being held in Russia, Whelan said he was “very disappointed” not to be part of the exchange. “I don’t understand why I’m still here,” he said.
– “Merchant of death” –
Griner, a two-time Olympic champion, was arrested in February at a Moscow airport with a vape and liquid containing cannabis, a product banned in Russia.
She explained that she used it to calm the pain related to her intensive basketball practice, but in August she was sentenced to nine years in prison.
After her appeal was rejected, she was transferred in November to a penal colony in Mordovia, in central Russia. For her followers, the athlete was held hostage by Moscow to negotiate with Washington.
The name of Viktor Bout began to circulate in the boreal summer.
Famous Russian arms dealer arrested in Thailand in 2008, was sentenced to 25 years in prison in the United States.
Nicknamed the “death dealer”, his life inspired the film “The Lord of War”, with Nicolas Cage.
Bout landed in Russia on Thursday, according to a state channel in that country. In an interview with RT on Friday, this former Soviet official said that Western countries “think they can divide and destroy” Russia.
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Basketball player Brittney Griner arrives in the US after prisoner swap with Russia