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US basketball star Griner freed in Russian prisoner swap

Basketball player Brittney Griner (left) and Russian arms dealer Victor Bout. Photo: EVGENIA NOVOZHENINA and Saeed KHAN/various sources/AFP

President Joe Biden said Thursday that US women’s basketball star Brittney Griner is “on her way home” after Moscow reported she had been exchanged in a prisoner swap for Russian arms dealer Victor Bout.

The US athlete, who was being held in a remote Russian penal colony, was arrested at a Moscow airport in February and handed nine years in prison in August for possessing vape cartridges with a small quantity of cannabis oil.

Biden, who was due shortly to speak to the nation from the White House, tweeted that “Moments ago I spoke to Brittney Griner.” 

“She is safe. She is on a plane. She is on her way home,” Biden said in the tweet, which included pictures of himself in the Oval Office with Griner’s wife Cherelle Griner.

Russia confirmed that Bout had been exchanged for the 32-year-old basketballer, who was detained in a Cold-War style standoff between Moscow and Washington over Russia’s military offensive in Ukraine.

“On December 8, 2022, at the Abu Dhabi airport, the exchange of Russian citizen Viktor Bout for US citizen Brittney Griner… was successfully completed,” the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement.

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