In this July 7, 2022 photo, US basketball player Brittney Griner, who was detained in February at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport and later charged with illegal possession of cannabis, is escorted before a court hearing in Khimki, outside Moscow, Russia. (EVGENIA NOVOZHENINA / REUTERS)
WASHINGTON/MOSCOW – Russian citizen Viktor Bout was exchanged for US basketball player Brittney Griner on Thursday at the Abu Dhabi airport, Russia's foreign ministry announced.
Griner, who's been detained in Russia since February, was released and heading home, the Russian ministry confirmed.
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Washington categorically refused a dialogue on the inclusion of Bout in the exchange scheme. Nevertheless, Russia continued to actively work to rescue our compatriot.
Foreign Ministry, Russia
The US side has also confirmed the completion of the prisoner swap.
Griner, a 32-year-old two-time Olympic medalist for the US women's national basketball team, was arrested at an airport in Moscow in February for illegally bringing cannabis into Russia. Her arrest came days before the Ukraine crisis broke out and as US-Russia tensions escalated.
In August, she was sentenced to nine years in prison and fined 1 million rubles ($15,773) for drug smuggling.
In 2008, Bout was arrested by the Thai police at the request of Washington and charged with selling weapons to a US-designated foreign terrorist group. He was extradited to the United States in 2010 and sentenced to 25 years behind bars with a fine of $15 million in 2012.
"Washington categorically refused a dialogue on the inclusion of Bout in the exchange scheme. Nevertheless, Russia continued to actively work to rescue our compatriot," the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement on Telegram.
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Russian citizen Viktor Bout is escorted by a member of the special police unit as he arrives at a criminal court in Bangkok, Thailand, in this Oct 4, 2010 file photo. (DAMIR SAGOLJ / REUTERS)
US President Joe Biden also tweeted in the morning that he just spoke by phone with Griner. He thanked the authorities in the United Arab Emirates, where the prisoner swap took place.