Russia has released Brittney Griner, the WNBA star held for months on marijuana charges. Russian authorities released Griner Thursday in a one-for-one prisoner swap for international arms dealer Viktor Bout, reports CBS News.
President Joe Biden approved the one-for-one exchange agreement with Moscow within just the last week, according to sources familiar with the deal. The swap took place on Thursday in the United Arab Emirates.
The US and Russia reached the deal last Thursday, according to five former US officials.
President Biden Speaks With Griner On Phone
A White House official said President Biden was in the Oval Office Thursday morning on the phone, speaking with Griner and her wife. The official said that Vice President Kamala Harris was also in the room. Griner will quickly undergo a medical evaluation, as is standard procedure for freed U.S. prisoners.
To secure Griner’s release, the president ordered Bout freed and returned to Russia. Biden signed the commutation order cutting short Bout’s 25-year federal prison sentence. Bout had served 12 years.
Russian authorities detained Griner at an airport in February. She later pleaded guilty to charges stemming from the discovery of Cannabis oil cartridges in her luggage.
Deal Came Together Over Last Two Weeks
After five months of stalled diplomacy, sources say the one-for-one exchange came together over the last two weeks.
It remains unclear what led to the breakthrough in negotiations. But the Biden Administration made at least one concession by agreeing to reduce the swap to one American for one Russian.
At the end of November, the US State Department criticized the Russian government for failing to bargain in good faith. As recently as Sunday, on CBS News’ “Face the Nation,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said U.S. negotiators were “actively engaged” with the Russians.