OPINION: This article may contain commentary which reflects the author's opinion.
It is official. Brittney Griner is being released by Russia in exchange for arms dealer Viktor Bout. President Joe Biden announced on Twitter, “Moments ago I spoke to Brittney Griner. She is safe. She is on a plane. She is on her way home.”
CBS News reported: “CBS News learned early Thursday from a U.S. official. The one-for-one exchange agreement negotiated with Moscow in recent weeks was given final approval by President Biden within just the last week, according to sources familiar with the deal. The swap, first reported by CBS News, took place on Thursday in the United Arab Emirates.”
“Five former U.S. officials told CBS News the agreement had been reached as of last Thursday. A White House official said President Biden was in the Oval Office Thursday morning on the phone, speaking with Griner, and her wife Cherelle Griner, and Vice President Kamala Harris were also in the room. Per standard procedure for freed U.S. prisoners, Griner was expected to quickly undergo a medical evaluation,” the outlet added.
Moments ago I spoke to Brittney Griner.
She is safe.
She is on a plane.
She is on her way home. pic.twitter.com/FmHgfzrcDT
— President Biden (@POTUS) December 8, 2022
US officials: Russia frees WNBA player Brittney Griner in prisoner swap, with US releasing Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout. pic.twitter.com/JEsGaOfFiu
— ESPN (@espn) December 8, 2022
BREAKING: Brittney Griner released by Russia in 1-for-1 prisoner swap for arms dealer Viktor Bout, U.S. official says https://t.co/oa6fEPHtM9
— CBS News (@CBSNews) December 8, 2022
BREAKING: Russia has freed American WNBA star Brittney Griner in a prisoner swap, with the U.S. releasing Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, according to U.S. officials. https://t.co/VhWRFsCoKd
— The Associated Press (@AP) December 8, 2022
US basketball star Brittney Griner has been released from Russian custody in a prisoner exchange for convicted arms dealer Viktor Bout https://t.co/FIIMSpFzTJ
— CNN Breaking News (@cnnbrk) December 8, 2022
Bout was a notorious arms dealer who had a 25 year sentence that was cut short for this trade.
It is worth remembering what one of the men responsible for capturing Bout had to say about the potential trade months before it happened.
Rob “Zach” Zachariasiewicz wrote an op-ed for USA Today and warned against making a trade of Bout for Griner.
“Bout, who is known as the “Merchant of Death,” provided the fuel for conflicts across the globe. He was a critical player in the global illicit arms trade not because he could obtain weapons but because he could deliver his destructive cargo anywhere in the world through his control of a private fleet of military aircraft. And he did just that,” the former DEA agent said.
“A tremendous amount of resources and political capital were spent on the critical national security investigation into Bout’s actions. Lives were placed at risk, and tireless efforts were made. Now many voices are not being adequately considered in these deliberations over whether to free Bout in exchange for an American. Those voices include an entire generation of maimed and orphaned inhabitants of war-torn countries throughout the world, especially in Africa,” he said.
“In a recorded undercover meeting, he declared to persons he believed to be terrorist facilitators that the United States was his sworn enemy. He offered them, as part of an extensive arsenal of heavy weapons, hundreds of surface-to-air missiles to be used against U.S. military advisers and the Colombian military,” the former agent said.
“Negotiating for Bout’s release is a feckless and shortsighted foreign policy. Such actions merely encourage our adversaries to engage in the kidnapping, illegal detention, and ransoming of American citizens throughout the world. Organizations such as Hezbollah, drug cartels, and the Russian Federal Security Service are emboldened when their criminal actions are rewarded. We must make abundantly clear that there is nothing to be gained by engaging in these criminal actions,” he said
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Friday: “We are ready to discuss this topic but within the framework of the channel that was agreed upon by presidents Putin and Biden. If the Americans decide to once again resort to public diplomacy, that is their business and I would even say that it is their problem.”
The Daily Mail reported that the deal to swap her for Bout was on the table, and could be completed within a “matter of weeks.”
“The US position has weakened now. They showed their hand and now their bargaining position has weakened,” a source allegedly told the Daily Mail.
“It is now uncertain that the deal would include Paul Whelan, an American who has been locked up on espionage charges since 2018. The US had been pushing for a deal that would include both Griner and Whelan. Now that she has been sentenced in the Russian court of law, their leverage is weaker. Bout was sentenced to 25 years in prison in 2012. He had already served four years and has since completed another ten,” the Daily Mail reported.
“While he technically has 11 years left on his sentence, he must serve only 85 percent of the total term under federal prison guidelines which makes him eligible for release in around five or six. John Kirby, the US National Security Council Director for Strategic Communications, would only confirm that the US wants to strike a deal,” the report added.