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Russia frees basketball star Brittney Griner in exchange for arms dealer

US basketball star Brittney Griner waits for a verdict inside a defendants' cage during a hearing in Khimki, outside Moscow, on August 4, 2022. (Evgenia 
Novozhenina/Pool/AFP)
US basketball star Brittney Griner waits for a verdict inside a defendants' cage during a hearing in Khimki, outside Moscow, on August 4, 2022. (Evgenia Novozhenina/Pool/AFP)

Russia frees WNBA star Brittney Griner in a dramatic high-level prisoner exchange, with the US releasing notorious Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, American officials say. The swap, at a time of heightened tensions over Ukraine, achieves a top goal for US President Joe Biden, but carries a heavy price.

The deal, the second such exchange in eight months with Russia, procures the release of the most prominent American detained abroad. Griner is a two-time Olympic gold medalist whose months-long imprisonment on drug charges brought unprecedented attention to the population of wrongful detainees.

Biden’s authorization to release a Russian felon once nicknamed “the Merchant of Death” underscores the escalating pressure that his administration faced to get Griner home, particularly after the recent resolution of her criminal case and her subsequent transfer to a penal colony.

The swap is confirmed by US officials with direct knowledge of the negotiations. Biden spoke with Griner on the phone while her wife, Cherelle, was in the Oval Office.

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