Griner returns to U.S., reunites with wife, Cherelle

Griner returns to U.S., reunites with wife, Cherelle

5: 57 AM ET

  • ESPN News Services

Brittney Griner returned to the U.S. early Friday after being freed in a high-profile prisoner exchange following nearly 10 months in detention in Russia.

Griner was seen getting off a plane that landed Friday at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland in Texas.

President Joe Biden spoke by phone with Griner, who was reunited with her wife, Cherelle. U.S. officials who met her upon arrival said she was in very good spirits and appeared to be in good health, according to White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, who noted that Griner would be offered specialized medical services and counseling.

Griner had been detained in Russia for nearly 10 months. She was exchanged for notorious arms dealer Viktor Bout on Thursday.

The exchange, made at a time of heightened tensions over the invasion of Ukraine, achieved a top goal for Biden but carried a heavy price and left behind Paul Whelan, an American jailed for nearly four years in Russia.

In an address from the White House on Thursday, Biden said that these “past few months have been hell for Brittney” but that she was in good spirits.

“This is a day we’ve worked toward for a long time,” Biden said. “We never stopped pushing for her release. It took painstaking and intense negotiations, and I want to thank all the hardworking public servants across my administration who worked tirelessly to secure her release.”

Cherelle Griner also spoke at the White House and thanked a number of people who helped secure her wife’s release.

“Today, my family is whole, but as you all are aware, there are so many other families who are not whole,” Cherelle Griner said. “BG and I will remain committed to the work of getting every American home, including Paul, whose family is in our hearts today as we celebrate BG being home.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin addressed the prisoner exchange Friday, saying more U.S.-Russian exchanges are possible.

Asked whether other prisoners could be swapped, Putin replied that “everything is possible,” noting that “compromises have been found” to clear the Thursday exchange of Griner for Bout.

“We aren’t refusing to continue this work in the future,” Putin said.

Griner was arrested at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport in February when customs officials found vape canisters with cannabis oil in her luggage. She pleaded guilty in July but still faced a trial because admitting guilt in Russia’s judicial system does not automatically end a case. She was sentenced to nine years and had been transferred to a penal colony in November.

She acknowledged in court that she possessed the canisters but said she had no criminal intent and that their presence in her luggage was due to hasty packing.

The U.S. State Department had declared Griner to be “wrongfully detained” — a charge Russia sharply rejected.

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. He was arrested in Thailand in 2008 and extradited to the U.S. in 2010.

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.

Whelan, a Michigan corporate security executive, has been imprisoned in Russia since December 2018 on espionage charges that his family and the U.S. government have said are baseless.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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