WNBA Star Brittney Griner traded out of Russian jail


Brittney Griner finally leaves Russia after almost a year. Photo from the New York Times

Kate Oller, Staff Writer

After 10 months, basketball player Brittney Griner was let out of Russian prison after being found with cannabis-derived oil cartridges in her luggage at a Russian airport.

This six-time WNBA All-Star and two-time Olympic gold medalist was kept in a Russian jail after being sentenced to nine years in jail for drug charges.

Griner was on her way to Russia in February, 2022, to play in a Russian basketball league during the WNBA offseason. When being charged, she claimed she didn’t mean to pack the cartridges in her luggage, and must have accidentally packed them. However, her plea was ignored.

After months of attempted trading deals, Russia and the Biden Administration finally came to a deal. Russia gave Griner to the U.S. in exchange for the so-called “Merchant of Death,” a Russian arms dealer named Viktor Bout. Prior to the exchange, Bout had been held in a German prison for 12 years.

Griner’s family members (such as her wife, Cherelle Griner) were relieved to have her back home.

“Today my family is whole,” Cherelle Griner said at the White House, the day of Brittney’s release.

However, President Joe Biden expressed his regret about the transaction. He spoke about wanting the deal to include American Paul Whelan, a corporate security executive who had been jailed in Russia since 2018.

“Sadly, for totally illegitimate reasons, Russia is treating Paul’s case differently than Brittney’s,” Biden said. “While we have not yet succeeded in securing Paul’s release, we are not giving up. We will never give up.”

In a phone call (shown on CNN), Whelan expressed his happiness that Griner was released. However, he had also mentioned his distress.

“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,” Whelan said.

Biden stated he will continue fighting to get Whelan out of Russia, and hopes to do so before the new year. But for the moment, he sees Griner as a win for the U.S., as she is now safe at home with her family.

Brittney Griner rides on plane from Russia back to Texas
Photo from the New York Times