Brittney Griner is back on United States soil, 10 months after being detained in Russia.
The WNBA star landed in San Antonio early Friday morning, around 24 hours after news broke that her freedom had been secured in a prisoner exchange.
“So happy to have Brittney back on U.S. soil. Welcome home BG!” tweeted Roger Carstens, the U.S. special envoy for hostage affairs, after Griner’s plane landed.
How was Brittney Griner freed?
Griner’s trip home was made possible by the Biden administration’s agreement to send arms dealer Viktor Bout back to Russia.
“In releasing Bout, the U.S. freed a former Soviet Army lieutenant colonel whom the Justice Department once described as one of the world’s most prolific arms dealers,” The Associated Press reported. “Bout was serving a 25-year sentence on charges that he conspired to sell tens of millions of dollars in weapons that U.S officials said were to be used against Americans.”
Bout had also made it home by Friday morning, the article said.
What will happen to Paul Whelan?
American Paul Whelan, who was arrested in Russia four years ago and charged with spying, was not part of the prisoner exchange.
Whelan’s family members said they were warned ahead of time about Griner’s release and were able to “mentally prepare,” according to NBC News.
“It is so important to me that it is clear that we do not begrudge Ms. Griner her freedom,” said Whelan’s brother, David, in a statement. “As I have often remarked, Brittney’s and Paul’s cases were never really intertwined. It has always been a strong possibility that one might be freed without the other.”
A senior U.S. official told NBC News that the Russian government has not yet been willing to make a deal for Whelan.
“The official said that Russia has treated Whelan differently because he is accused of spying and that the Kremlin ultimately gave the White House the choice of Griner or no one after different options were proposed,” NBC News reported.
But American leaders remain hopeful that progress will be made in the future.
“Asked if more such swaps could happen, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Friday that ‘everything is possible,’ noting that ‘compromises have been found’ to clear the way for Thursday’s exchange,” The Associated Press reported.
Griner statement on the prisoner swap
In their own statement, Griner’s loved ones expressed support for the Whelan family and promised to continue praying for him, according to Sports Illustrated.
“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. We pray for Paul and for all wrongfully detained Americans’ swift and safe return,” the statement said.