US, Russia confirm prisoner swap; Griner for Bout
The landmark swap has been categorically slammed by many US officials as the worst trade in history.
On Thursday, a prisoner swap between American Basketball celebrity Britney Griner and Russian businessman Viktor Bout who was serving a 25-year sentence in the US over alleged arms dealings was concluded today.
"On December 8, 2022, the procedure for the exchange of Russian citizen Viktor Bout for US citizen Brittney Griner, who were serving sentences in correctional institutions of the United States of America and the Russian Federation, respectively, was successfully completed at the Abu Dhabi airport," a statement by the Russian Foreign Ministry read.
"For a long time, the Russian Federation has been negotiating with the United States on the release of Bout. Washington categorically refused to engage in a dialogue on including the Russian in the exchange scheme," the Ministry added, explaining that "nevertheless, the Russian Federation continued to actively work to rescue our compatriot."
"As a result of the efforts made, it was possible to agree with the US side on organizing the exchange of Bout for Griner. The Russian citizen was returned to his homeland," the Ministry concluded.
Griner, who played for Russian side Yekaterinburg during the WNBA off-season, was detained after cannabis-infused vape cartridges were found in her luggage.
Since Cannabis oil is illegal in Russia, Griner was convicted of drug possession and trafficking. She was sentenced to nine years behind bars and a fine of 1 million rubles ($16,576) after she pleaded guilty to the charges.
Read more: Denis Rodman plans Russia trip to secure Griner release
The landmark swap has been categorically slammed by many as the worst trade in history, not only because Bout's charges were considered more offensive than Griner, but also because another US prisoner, Paul Whelan, was considered more worthy than Griner of being released.
Earlier, US President Joe Biden tweeted, "Moments ago I spoke to Brittney Griner. She is safe. She is on a plane. She is on her way home," he said.
Moments ago I spoke to Brittney Griner.— President Biden (@POTUS) December 8, 2022
She is safe.
She is on a plane.
She is on her way home. pic.twitter.com/FmHgfzrcDT
Former US National Security Advisor John Bolton called the swap "an American surrender," saying, "This is not what American strength looks like."
The Bout-for-Griner prisoner swap is not a trade, it's an American surrender. This is not what American strength looks like. Terrorists and rogue states are smiling.— John Bolton (@AmbJohnBolton) December 8, 2022
Others on social media have expressed outrage over the fact US Marine Paul Whelan, who was imprisoned in Russia on charges of espionage, was considered less worthy than Griner and was consequently left behind.
Meet Brittney Griner & Marine Paul Whelan.— Benny Johnson (@bennyjohnson) December 8, 2022
Both were convicted in Russian courts on dubious charges.
Both serving multi-year sentences in Russian prison.
Brittney hates America
Paul served America
Guess which one Biden traded a terrorist to free?
Semper fi Paul pic.twitter.com/tuP1R6AZpf
US Marine Paul Whelan is rotting in a Russian jail for 4 years already. His sentence is up in 12 years.— End Wokeness (@EndWokeness) December 8, 2022
Instead, Biden freed the Merchant of Death to get a WNBA player who was jailed less than 2 months ago
What a spit in the face
Paul's brother David said that early warnings allowed his family to mentally prepare themselves for a public disappointment as initial rumors indicated he would be exchanged instead of Griner with Bout.
"This time, US government officials let us know in advance that Paul would be left behind, unlike last April when they left him. That early warning meant that our family has been able to mentally prepare for what is now a public disappointment for us. And a catastrophe for Paul," the statement read.
Here, in full, is a statement from David Whelan, brother of American Paul Whelan. Paul has been jailed in Russia for nearly four years and was not part of the Griner-for-Bout prisoner swap. Please read. pic.twitter.com/wzTQjslVN2— Arden Farhi (@ArdenFarhi) December 8, 2022
"Despite the possibility that there might be an exchange without Paul, our family is still devastated. I can't even fathom how Paul will feel when he learns. Paul has worked so hard to survive nearly 4 years of this injustice," David Whelan said.
"He'd been worrying about where he'd live when he got back to the US."
But Biden later reassured Whelan's family that the White House had not forgotten about him.
"We've not forgotten about Paul Whelan, who has been unjustly detained in Russia for years. This was not a choice of which American to bring home," Biden said at a press briefing. "Sadly, for totally illegitimate reasons Russia is treating Paul's case differently than Brittney’s."
Biden added he was in close contact with the family and reassured them his administration "will never give up" on freeing Whelan.
As he walked off the stage of the briefing, Biden said Griner will be back on US soil in 24 hours.
Paul Whelan 'disappointed' US has not done more for his release
Former Marine Paul Whelan told CNN that he is "disappointed" that the Biden administration has not done more to secure his release from Russia.
"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," he said.
It is worth noting that Whelan is Canadian-born, and his home country has not done or said anything regarding his release from Russia over espionage charges.
Paul Whelan is a former marine and CITIZEN of the "United States", "Canada", the "United Kingdom", and "Ireland". are the other COUNTRIES working to have him release form Russia? or is it just the U.S pic.twitter.com/ihWgmEFSKZ— Jerome (@Jerlldar) December 8, 2022
Now let's get all the facts out there. Paul Whelan was born in Canada. He is Canadian with citizenship in the United States Ireland the United Kingdom and Canada. He did serve in the United States Marine Corp. On paper it looks like Russia caught a spy with that many citizenships— Raymond Fields (@87bayliner) December 8, 2022
Paul Whelan probably shouldn’t be in prison in Russia but also Paul Whelan was court martialed and discharged from the marines for bad conduct (larceny in Iraq). He also is Canadian. And holds passports in Canada, the US, Ireland and the UK… https://t.co/8nHeM3gjpS— The Bandalorian (@TheOneTrueLang) December 8, 2022