Brittney Griner is finally free.
The WNBA star was released from Russian custody today after President Joe Biden negotiated a historic prisoner swap with Russian president Vladimir Putin, the White House confirmed.
The pro basketball player spent nearly 10 months in Russian custody after being detained at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport by Russian authorities in February for having vape cartridges filled with cannabis oil in her luggage. The athlete was in Russia at the time to play in the Russian women’s professional basketball league. She admitted to having the cartridges, but said it was an accident that she had packed them, and documents showed the cannabis oil was legally prescribed to her by her U.S. doctor for pain management, per NBC News.
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Griner was sentenced last August by a Russian court to nine years in prison for the drug offense, and last month was transferred to a prison colony in Mordovia to begin serving her sentence.
The person the Biden administration agreed to release from U.S. custody in exchange for Griner is Viktor Bout, a former Soviet military translator and arms dealer who served 11 years of a 25-year sentence in the U.S.
This prisoner swap is one of the most high-profile to take place between Russia and the United States since the Cold War. In 1962, the U.S. famously exchanged Rudolf Ivanovich Abel, a Soviet spy, for Francis Gary Powers, the American pilot of a U-2 spy plane that was shot down over Russian territory years earlier. The trade was even detailed in Steven Spielberg’s 2015 film, Bridge of Spies.
Since Griner’s imprisonment, people have noted the dangers athletes, particularly female athletes, can face when competing abroad—especially in countries with oppressive governments and harsh laws, like Russia.
Griner’s wife, Cherelle Griner, was finally able to speak with her over the phone while with Biden in the Oval Office of the White House following her release today.
Rosa Sanchez is the senior news editor at Harper’s Bazaar, working on news as it relates to entertainment, fashion, and culture. Previously, she was a news editor at ABC News and, prior to that, a managing editor of celebrity news at American Media. She has also written features for Rolling Stone, Teen Vogue, Forbes, and The Hollywood Reporter, among other outlets.