By Julius Washington
Howard University News Service
Russian officials released Brittney Griner early Thursday morning following months of detainment. The U.S. State Department made a deal to send Viktor Bout, an arms dealer, to Russia in exchange for Griner.
“She’s safe. She’s on a plane. She’s on her way home, after months of being unjustly detained in Russia, held under intolerable circumstances,” said President Biden who spoke with Griner on Thursday morning. “Brittney will soon be back in the arms of her loved ones, and she should have been there all along.”
The State Department’s previous negotiations had involved the potential release of Paul Whelan, a former Marine who was detained by Russia in 2018 on charges of espionage, in addition to Griner, but Russian officials were not interested in such an exchange.
“The president is committed to securing Paul’s return,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said during today’s press briefing. “This is something that we have worked for, worked on, for the past several months, getting them both home. That is something that the president wanted to do. … The Russians were not willing to negotiate in good faith.”
Griner’s wife, Cherelle, who also spoke at the White House following the announcement, said that she and Brittney would work to ensure other prisoners held abroad are brought home.
“Today, my family is whole, but as you are all aware, there’s so many other families who are not whole,” Cherelle Griner said. “BG’s not here to say this, but I will gladly speak on her behalf and say that BG and I will remain committed to the work of getting every American home, including Paul, whose family is in our hearts today.”
Griner was detained following the alleged discovery of less than a gram of hashish oil in her luggage, contained in two vape cartridges. Russian officials sentenced her to nine years in a penal colony, where she was being held before her release.
“We never stopped pushing for her release,” Biden said. “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.”
A number of Republican lawmakers, however, criticized the decision to send Bout to the Russians in exchange for Griner.
Most prominently, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., called the exchange “a gift to Vladimir Putin” and characterized “leaving Paul Whelan behind for this” as “unconscionable” in a tweet.
John Bolton, who served as the National Security Adviser to former President Donald Trump claimed in a CBS interview that a swap to exchange Bout for Whelan was passed over during Bolton’s time at the White House.
“I’ll just note the historical fact that the possibility of a Bout-for-Whelan trade existed back then, and it wasn’t made for very good reasons having to deal with Viktor Bout,” Bolton said.
Some Americans, however, were happy to learn that Griner had been released.
“I didn’t know she had been released. I’m happy for her. It’s a shame that she had to go through this,” said Paul Meagher, a resident of the Capitol Hill neighborhood in Washington. “She seemed to be, at worst, careless.”
“We’re happy she’s home,” another resident put it simply.
Julius Washington is a reporter for HUNewsService.com