Brittney Griner lands in Texas after Russia prisoner swap

Basketball star was freed in exchange for arms dealer Viktor Bout

American basketball star Brittney Griner gets out of a plane after landing at the JBSA-Kelly Field Annex runway on December 9, 2022 in San Antonio. AFP
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American basketball player Brittney Griner has landed in the US after being freed from Russia in a prisoner exchange.

Footage broadcast by CNN showed Griner arriving at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland in Texas. She is expected to be transferred to a nearby military facility for medical checks.

She was arrested in Russia in February on drug charges and freed in exchange for Russian citizen Viktor Bout, a convicted arms dealer who had been jailed in the US.

The UAE and Saudi Arabia played a central role in her release and were thanked by US President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

The UAE's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation confirmed the country's role in the prisoner swap in a joint statement with the Saudi foreign ministry.

Griner and Bout were pictured being handed over at Abu Dhabi airport before continuing their journeys to Washington and Moscow.

The Biden administration had also tried to secure the release of Paul Whelan, an American detained in Russia since 2018, but Moscow refused.

Griner's release came a day after President Sheikh Mohamed spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin on “issues of regional and international interest”.

The basketball star is a two-time Olympic gold medallist and was arrested in Moscow a month after she arrived to play for UMMC Ekaterinburg.

The US had said she was wrongfully detained.

An appeal to reduce her sentence of more than nine years was denied and she was later transferred to a remote penal colony.

Her family have said they are delighted at her release but also called for Whelan to be freed.

“Today my family is whole. But as you all are aware, there's so many other families who are not whole,” said Cherelle Griner, who is married to Brittney.

Updated: December 09, 2022, 11:40 AM