Britney Griner returns home in exchange for “Merchant of Death”


Griner, who was detained in a Russian prison since February on possession of marijuana, was released in a prisoner exchange on Dec. 8. She returned to the U.S. the following day.

Lauren Johnston, Staff Writer

After a 10 month detainment in Russia and getting sentenced to nine years in prison on drug charges Britney Griner, WNBA star, has returned home to the United States in a prisoner swap for Viktor Bout, “Merchant of Death.”

Griner was detained in February at the Sheremetyevo airport in Moscow after discovering cannabis-derived oil cartridges in her luggage and later pleaded guilty to the charges. 

To secure the release of Griner, President Joe Biden had to cut Bout’s federal prison sentence for conspiring to kill Americans, acquire and export anti-aircraft missiles, and provide material support to a terrorist organization. 

This marks one of the most high-profile prisoner swaps between Moscow and Washington since the Cold War. Bout allegedly is the most prolific arms dealer in the past decades with his release sparking fear within the Pentagon.

“I think there is a concern that he would return to doing the same kind of work that he’s done in the past,” a senior defense official told reporters after Bout’s release from U.S. custody.

Biden has expressed deep regret for not being able to secure Paul Whelan, retired U.S Marine and security executive, imprisoned in Russia since December 2018 on espionage charges that the U.S and Whelan’s family have claimed as false. 

Biden has vowed to never give up on bringing Whelan home but the U.S. government claims Russia refused to negotiate his release. Whelan has expressed his frustration in an exclusive CNN interview after Griner was freed. 

“I am greatly disappointed that more has not been done to secure my release, especially as the four year anniversary of my arrest is coming up. I was arrested for a crime that never occurred.I don’t understand why I’m still sitting here,” said Whelan.

David Whelan, brother of Paul Whelan, has expressed his sympathy for Griner’s family and his joy for them being reunited as one of few people who are in a similar situation of being a family member to a Russian hostage.

Griner’s wife, Cherelle Griner, worked with the media, White House and other government officials to secure Griner’s return. When the plane landed at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, a team of medical staff and psychologists treated Griner before she was able to share a moment with her wife. 

A family room was set up with some of Griner’s favorite snacks including Cheetos and Reese’s peanut butter cups before she was sent to a hospital on the base for a thorough evaluation. 

At the military base, Griner was able to get on the court for the first time since her imprisonment. Returning to the WNBA for the spring season will be her own decision. 

“I think it’s fair to say that her picking up a ball voluntarily and the first thing being a dunk … it was really encouraging,” said Griner’s special agent, Lindsay Kagawa Colas.