Brittney Griner is released from a Russian prison in exchange for Viktor Bout

The basketball star is freed when the US agrees to free a convicted arms dealer in a dramatic prisoner swap

Russia released jailed US basketball star Brittney Griner on Thursday in a dramatic high-profile prisoner swap for notorious arms dealer Viktor Bout, the so-called "Death Trader" who has been held in US prisons for 12 years.

Joe Biden, who made Griner's release a top priority after he spent nearly 10 months in prison on drug charges, said in an address from the White House that he found him "in good spirits" when speaking after the exchange in Abu Dhabi.

"He's safe, he's on the plane, he's on his way home after months of being unjustly detained in Russia, being held in intolerable circumstances," he said. "Brittney will soon be back in the arms of her loved ones, and she should have been there all along."

But the president expressed regret that the deal did not include Paul Whelan, a Michigan corporate security executive jailed since December 2018 on espionage charges that his family and the US government deny.

Biden said: “Unfortunately, for totally illegitimate reasons, Russia is treating Paul's case differently than Brittney's. And even though we haven't managed to secure Paul's release, we're not giving up. We will never give up.”

Griner's wife, Cherelle, stood with Biden and the vice president, Kamala Harris, and said she was "overwhelmed with emotion".

“The most important emotion I have right now is just heartfelt gratitude to President Biden and his entire administration. He just mentioned this job is not easy, and it is not easy,” he said.

“Today my family is intact, but as you all know, there are so many other families that are not. [Brittney] isn't here to say this but I will be happy to speak on her behalf and say that BG and I will remain committed to working to earn every home in America, including Paul, whose family is in our hearts today.

The second exchange in eight months, following the release of Trevor Reed in April, resulted in the release of the most prominent Americans held overseas.

Russia's foreign ministry confirmed to state media that Griner had been exchanged for Bout in a discreet exchange in Abu Dhabi but gave no further details.

Footage later emerged of Griner for Bout exchanging on the grounds of the Abu Dhabi airport; The Financial Times reported it was shot by Russia's FSB security service.

Griner is a two-time Olympic gold medalist whose imprisonment on drug charges brought unprecedented attention to the errant prisoner population. He was arrested in February, convicted in August and sentenced to nine years in prison in Russia.

Biden's authorization to release Bout underscores the pressure his administration is under to bring Griner home. But that came at a cost with the exception of Whelan, also classified as wrongful detention. He was sentenced in 2020 to 16 years in prison.

The Whelans welcomed Griner's exchange but said they were "devastated" he was not released.

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