Russia frees US basketball star in swap with arms dealer Viktor Bout
The US and Russia have exchanged jailed US basketball star Brittney Griner for notorious arms dealer Viktor Bout, held in an American prison for 12 years.
President Joe Biden said Griner was safe and on a plane home from the United Arab Emirates.
“I’m glad to say Brittney’s in good spirits… she needs time and space to recover,” he said at the White House.
Bout – widely known as the “merchant of death” – has arrived back in Moscow, Russian media reports.
“In the middle of the night they simply woke me up and said ‘Get your things together’ and that was it,” Bout said in brief remarks to a reporter from national television, after landing in Russia.
Bout reportedly came down the aeroplane steps carrying a bouquet of flowers before embracing his mother and his wife.
Griner was arrested at a Moscow airport in February for possessing cannabis oil and last month she was sent to a penal colony.
The Biden administration proposed a prisoner exchange in July, aware Moscow had long sought Bout’s release.
The elaborate swap involved two private planes bringing the pair to Abu Dhabi airport from Moscow and Washington, and then flying them home.
Footage on Russian state media showed them crossing on the tarmac with their respective teams. In the video, apparently provided by Russian security services, Bout is warmly greeted by two Russian officials as Griner, who is 6ft 9in (206cm), looks on. Part of the swap is then edited out before the two parties go their separate ways.
“The Russian citizen has been returned to his homeland,” the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement.
Speaking in the Oval Office, Brittney Griner’s wife Cherelle praised the efforts of the Biden administration in securing her release: “I’m just standing here overwhelmed with emotions.”