Brittney Griner is free. What next?
Brittney Griner, WNBA Star arrested and held in Russia since February, has finally been set free.
“She's on her way home,” said President Biden from the White House on Thursday, December 8. “After months of being unjustly detained in Russia, held under intolerable circumstances, Brittney will soon be back in the arms of her loved ones. And she should have been there all along. This is a day we've worked toward for a long time. We never stopped pushing for her release.”
\u201cMoments ago I spoke to Brittney Griner.\n \nShe is safe.\nShe is on a plane.\nShe is on her way home.\u201d— President Biden (@President Biden) 1670505284
In the 10 months since her initial arrest, the 32-year-old star center for the WNBA's Phoenix Mercury was held in a detention center with no clear indication of when she'd return home. Griner was arrested after cartridges of cannabis-derived oil were found in her luggage.
Though Griner plead guilty to these charges, it was clear that the punishment was unduly harsh. The athlete, who suffers from chronic pain and explained that she didn’t realize the cartridges were in her bag, was charged with “large-scale transportation of drugs.”
The State Department declared that Griner had been wrongfully detained in May, signaling a more aggressive effort to get her home. But apparently, after months of negotiations, the deal finally came together over the past two weeks.
In said deal, Griner was “swapped” in a one-for-one prisoner exchange with an international arms dealer Viktor Bout, nicknamed the “Merchant of Death.” If that doesn’t seem like an equal exchange, it’s because it isn’t. Biden even accused the Russian government of using Griner for “leverage” — which would explain her exorbitant punishment.
But why did it take so long to bring Griner home? We all remember Trump’s cringeworthy Tweets after A$AP Rocky’s Swedish incarceration. The phrase “It was a Rocky Week, get home ASAP A$AP” will forever live rent-free in my mind.
But that was Sweden. This is Russia.
"It's not a typical diplomatic negotiation,” Ambassador John Sullivan — who stepped down as the top U.S. diplomat in Moscow in September — said in a recent appearance on CBS Mornings, "The Russians really presented the president, President Biden, with a take-it-or-leave it proposition. One for one, it was Brittney," Sullivan said, citing conversations with current and former officials. "And unfortunately, we've had to leave other Americans, in particular Paul Whelan."
Whelan is a US Marine who's been held in Russia for close to four years on spying charges — that the US maintains are also false. Original negotiations aimed to get the two of them out of Russia, but the terms of this deal did not allow for Whelan’s release.
"We've not forgotten about Paul Whelan," Mr. Biden said Thursday, adding, “we will never give up."
In his press conference, Biden said that Griner seemed to be in “good spirits.” But what does that mean? The psychological effect of incarceration is one thing. But a Black, gay American woman imprisoned wrongfully in Russia? There's no way to imagine her experience.
After months of pleading and being continually let down by the US government, Griner is finally on her way home to her wife. It’s a Christmas miracle, for real.